Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: MANY thanks to jamethiel_bane for the amazing beta. Catching me on my canon mistakes and making my "Rays" more Ray-ish in their respective Ray-ish-ness.

In the beginning, he was cool. Vecchio hadn't been out of Chicago that long. He knew the rules. You sit on your stool, grab a few handfuls of bar pretzels, drink your dinner, and don't talk to the other cops. We all had our stools; our fuck-ups to deal with. Which entailed Jack or Stoli doubles as fast as the barkeep could pour 'em. No one wanted to hear your sob story and you didn't want to hear theirs. So unless the Cubs scored or they didn't when they should have, or the Bulls self-destructed on the court, or the Hawks were playing like five-year olds on their first pair of skates, it was keep it zipped, pal. Ixnay on the alktay. What was that fancy word Frase would have used? Tashit? Yeah, all tashit understanding. In Vegas he probably earned himself a fucking gold medal in the undercover Olympics for keeping it zipped. Don't think he would have made it out otherwise, so he had no fucking excuse. None.

I noticed him one night as I was leaving, so drunk I'd gone beyond double vision to kaleidoscope time, but I still couldn't miss that bald head-gigantic nose combo. We didn't make eye contact, because I didn't want to, even on the extreme outside chance that I could get my eyes to focus for a split second, but I knew, in that way cops know, that he knew it was me and that it was my cab the barkeep had called out. Cause I might be doing the tango with alcoholism, but I wasn't fucking stupid enough to drive my car that tanked.

He came up to me the next day as I was leaving the 2-7. "Want a lift?"

"Buzz off. I'm not going home, Vecchio." I didn't bother with being polite, because polite went out the window the day that fucker married my ex-wife. And the fact that she dumped his Italian ass didn't mean jack shit.

"I know you're not going home, Stanley," and he said in that I'm-so-stuck-in-fifth-grade 'tude of his. "You're going where you've gone every night for months. Same place I'm going."

My first thought was, "Huh." Then I thought about popping him for that "Stanley" shit, but the lieu made it clear that if the two of us so much as looked at each other wrong, he'd fire the both of us. I didn't know about Vecchio, but I needed some place to go during the day or I'd be at the bar at opening time. Which is so not buddies and so hello death by booze that it probably would be easier and a hell of a lot cheaper just to blow my brains out.

Canada does that to a guy.

But fuck you, Benton Fraser, I was not going there. I shrugged and followed him out the door. He didn't bother to turn around to see if I was behind him.

Before I knew it, we were hitting the bar Monday through Friday. More tashit shit. Whoever drove got stuck paying for the cab to the bar in the morning to pick up his wheels. Conversation was limited to, "Smoke?" "Nah, I quit." Then he'd grab the pack out of my pocket, shake one out, and use my lighter. Because I guess if you bum cigarettes and the light, you really haven't started smoking again. Keep fooling yourself, Vecchio. We'd get hammered. Watch a game if it was on. Get hammered. Share a cab on the way home. Pass each other the aspirin, depending on who made it to Welsh's secret stash first. Bust some perps. Get hammered after busting the perps. Try not to get killed while busting the perps, because Welsh had decided that since our off hours were a living hell, why not make our working day equally as fucked.

We'd been picked for mentoring, which is a fancy way of saying, "Hola, those life insurance premiums up to date, bud?" It was only because I didn't want to see Mr. Spanky New and Stupid Detective with the pregnant wife get iced on the job that I kept up the pretense of being a decent cop. I suspect Welsh knew that, and it was a roundabout way of keeping the two of us on the force. Oh, and alive. Because a glance across the bullpen and the permanent scowl on Vecchio's face that screamed, "Christ, I need a drink," told me that at least I wasn't the only one suffering here.

It was kinda a nice routine. If you ignored the fact that we were slowly killing ourselves.

Should have seen it coming. First change was that Vecchio began sitting next to me. Took it as his lazy ass just didn't want to walk across the room to bum cigs. Which I cornered him on later, which he half admitted to me was the case. This went on for a couple of weeks. Didn't bother me none since I wasn't talking to him.

I was saving all my comments for those stupid-ass fuckers who were getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to pretend they knew how to play hockey; I didn't care who sat next to me. Have to admit it was sort of convenient when it was time to catch our cab home.

Then one night a commercial came on, the announcer touting some new drug that gave you erections for days. Not they said that, just showed lots of birds and bees flying around being frisky. Then a picture of some older woman with a shit-eating grin on her face appeared on the screen, and Vecchio said over the bullshit, "This is fucked-up, Kowalski."

I nodded, because, duh. When you drink as much as I'd been doing, you don't worry about boners. Because erections meant big guys with large pink nipples that like a little tooth and an uncut dick the size of Ottawa and amazing blue eyes that turn black when you jack him just right and soft dark hair that's going a little gray at the temples. So fuck it. Not too into my dick these days.

Fucked-up I get. What I didn't get was that Vecchio wasn't talking about the birds and the bees getting it on. Nope. He was talking about us.

It was the start of another week, his night to drive. He met me out front in his beat-up Riv. Where he finds these cars, Christ only knows. This one was going to needs months, no, years of work to get it cherry. The body was half bondo and held together by prayers, but it turned over when he put the key in, and I guess that was all that mattered right now.

We didn't turn the corner where we're supposed to and I think, "Okay, new venue, same old booze. I can handle that." Plus I don't talk to Vecchio. We got undercover issues and Fraser issues and Stella issues, hell, we even got Riv issues, and I don't want to go there. I closed my eyes and beat out some tunes with my fingers on my knee, because he's got some sort of easy listening crap on the radio—Stairway to Heaven on harps or lyres—that sounds like it might be something you hear piped over the PA in a Vegas casino and isn't that as depressing as all shit?

When he said, "Out," like it's some sort of order, I didn't move for a few seconds because who in the hell does he think he is? But I really wanted a drink so I opened my eyes. And we're in front of my apartment building, and he's got a bag of what looks like groceries in his arms.


"In your apartment. I'm not saying this on the street," he said in a low voice but with enough attitude to piss me off.

I got a moment when it can go either way. I can either fish for my keys in my pocket or I can turn to the right and hit the bar around the corner. I don't like to get sauced near where I live because that's too close to boozing it up alone in your apartment, but I go there in a pinch if I need to. Like on the weekends.

"You got any booze in there?" I squinted at the bag.

"Yeah," he said, which I find out later is a goddamned lie.

"Okay," I nodded and trudged up the steps. I hadn't eaten lunch, and my stomach was doing those crunching noises it does when I'm hungry.

My apartment was a fucking pig sty, which was okay by me, but was sort of embarrassing when Vecchio got a good look at the dirty clothes in piles everywhere (when you come home stinking drunk every night, laundry hampers ain't in your sights), a mountain of unopened mail, and the smell, jeez, it really stank in here.

He stuck his head around the doorjamb to the kitchen and groaned, "Oh, for fuck sake, Kowalski." Spying the one empty corner in the living room that wasn't filled with old newspapers or rank-smelling clothes, he set down his bag of groceries. He went back into the kitchen and began opening and then banging cupboard doors shut. Opened the refrigerator, yelled, "Fuck!" a few times, slammed the door shut, came out, grabbed me by my collar, and threw me against the wall.

"I'm going back to the store. You don't even have dish soap. When I come back all that garbage in the kitchen better be gone or I'm going to beat the living shit out of you. Empty out the refrigerator too. Everything. We are cleaning that kitchen top to bottom and then we eat. I didn't sell my soul to the feebs for two years just to die in your kitchen from ptomaine poisoning."

He had that "Vegas" edge to his face, what I call his Lobster-the-Mobster look, all cool rage just waiting to pop and hopefully kill someone. I could see how he pulled off two years of undercover without breaking a sweat. He was good, but I was just as good.

"Fuck you."

He pushed a knee up against my nuts, just enough to make me hold my breath and keep me up against the wall. "You want I call Benny? I talk to him every Sunday. Did you know that? This Sunday's little chat is going to be a stinky tee-shirt by stinky tee-shirt description of this hellhole you call an apartment. Then I'm gonna tell him that you're this close to being a full-blown alcoholic. That you—"

Motherfucker. I turned my head to the side in surrender.

"Okay," he said gently and eased up on his knee. His hand let go of my tee-shirt and became flat against breadth of my chest. "Okay."

"Would you shut the fuck up?"

We'd been cleaning for two hours, listening to him bitch and kevetch about what a pig I was. The fumes from triple strength Lysol had both of us coughing into our sleeves. When I wasn't hacking up a lung, I was laughing my ass off, because he'd cut holes in a garbage bag and pulled it over his head so he wouldn't ruin his shirt and pants. He looked like some last-minute Halloween costume reject. "Mr. Vecchio, are you coming as a garbage bag?" Penalty buzzer sounds. Out in the first round.

How can such a small kitchen take so much time to clean?

I must have said that out loud because he snapped, "When you don't clean it for six months, you disgusting motherfucker, it takes two hours. Stanley," he added just to piss me off. Like I needed more pissing off?

He threw his sponge at my head. "Order take-out. Memo to the EPA: your refrigerator no longer rates as a toxic waste site. This'll all keep until tomorrow." He began putting his groceries away in my now completely empty refrigerator. "Know you know the number by heart by that ceiling-high mountain of take-out cartons."

I dialed.

Months later I called him on it. Why that night? He kissed me on the forehead.

"That morning you were in the bullpen arguing with that stupid shit you have for a partner. I'd just reamed my stupid shit partner another asshole. I caught your eye. You threw up your hands and smiled that psychotic goofball grin of yours, the first one I'd seen since you left for Canada. And I got it. I got why Stella and Benny tried to make it work. Kind of didn't get it before because you're a headcase, Kowalski. But that sense of you and me against the world crap you do. Better than anyone. You don't play well with others, except when you do, and then, Christ… It's all the way." I don't say nothing because it was true, even though I always end up getting kicked in the nuts in the end. "I thought we could save each other. Nothing more than that."

"Nothing more than that?" I pinched a nipple through his two-hundred dollar dress shirt.

"Nothing more, yeah, Christ, more. Just like that…"

We're sitting at my kitchen table, the inside of my nose permanently blistered from all the Lysol he'd thrown around. I'd ordered Chinese, with a six-pack chaser. We drank the beers first, downing them in about five minutes flat. It took the edge off, like enough that I wasn't in full body shakes, and I could hold my fork. Sort of.

"Here's the deal," he said, holding chopsticks like he holds his gun, with ease, like they're an extension of his arm. "We keep this up, I figure we got about three months before one or both of us start blacking out."

I didn't look at him, but started paying real close attention to my pork-fried rice, because I'd already started blacking out on the weekends. Hey, I didn't have no family to watch out for me or a pretence to keep up in front of nobody.

"You stupid fuck," he hissed. "Right on to Plan B. I'm not living here because this place is a goddamned hellhole, but you and I are now 'buddies.' Like that, Stanley? Buddies. I cook for you Tuesdays and Thursdays. Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays you do whatever you do, which we both know means you dial someone for food. For two. On Saturday night we go out. To a nice place. Don't give me shit about it. The nights we don't go out, we hang. Watch television. Do your laundry. Reacquaint you with something called a vacuum cleaner. I stay until you go to bed, then I go home. We spend Saturdays fixing up my car, working on your crap Goat, maybe catch a few ballgames; Sundays you have dinner with Ma and the family. I'm pretty pissed off that you haven't had the courtesy to even drop by and say hello since you got back from the fucking tundra. You hurt her feelings, you asshole, and if you weren't so goddamn pathetic, I'd beat some manners into you."

I thought about this. On the plus side, my kitchen didn't smell like road kill for the first time in months. Cool. Dinner wasn't pretzels and booze, which my stomach was appreciating like you wouldn't believe. On the negative side, there was Vecchio riding my ass, which was all the negative I needed to make me want to tell him to get the hell out of my apartment. I'm gearing up for the confrontation when I realized I don't got much choice. He'd played the Fraser card once already, and something tells me he'd even play the Stella card if he had to.

"What is this?" I grumbled, cause I'm not totally sold on this crappy idea. And do I even need to mention that it's Vecchio's Italian ass in my kitchen? "The Vecchio version of AA? Assholes Anonymous?"

"Yeah, Kowalski," he grinned. "I like that. You be an asshole to me—not like that's a stretch or anything—and I be an asshole to you, and maybe we both see our fortieth birthdays."

"The booze?" I didn't stutter but it was close, because I didn't know if I could go cold turkey. Which made me realize how far I'd gone with this, and it was all I could do not to throw-up my pork-fried rice.

"Nada. If I can do it, you can." Trust Vecchio to play to my big ass weakness. Competitive jerks are us. "You need a drink, you call me. I'll do the same. In four," he looked at me, "maybe six months, we should be dry enough that the doc at the yearly physical don't scream about the state of our livers."

I didn't look at him. "Don't tell Fraser."

"Don't make me."

"Why you doing this, Vecchio?" I knew I sounded pissy, and it's not like I wanted to die with a liver so bloated that I couldn't see my toes, but what was in it for him?

He brought a hand around his empty beer bottle. By the way he was gripping it, I knew he wanted something more. Something with a burn and a kick that would ease up whatever was yanking his chain. I know cause I wanted it, too. He let go all of a sudden, like he'd been zapped by an electric shock and looked at me, those gray-green eyes at half mast from either exhaustion or self-disgust. Hard to tell. "Not for you."

That knot, that gearing up, took a hike. Somehow that made it maybe doable. Like it wasn't just that I had fucked up. He wasn't saving me, wasn't pulling a Fraser. He needed me just as much as I needed him.

"Want more rice?" I pushed the carton toward him.

"Thanks, Stanley."

"You'd better stop with that Stanley shit, right now," I warned.

"Okay." He waited three beats. "Okay." He waited another three beats. I knew it was coming. "Stanleeeeeey."

I leaned over, pulled a sponge out of the bucket at my feet, and threw it at him; it made a nice fat wet sound when it hit that bald head of his.

Both of us were waiting for it. Had to happen. Eventually I'd reach the point when I didn't have to put all my energies into not hurting and drinking to stop the hurting. Meaning I could spare some a few minutes to give serious thought to pounding Vecchio's face.

I have to admit it took us a couple of months.

There were a lot of days when we didn't say anything other than, "Pass the salt, asshole," and "What is this shit? I hate peas," and "You order pineapple on the pizza again and I'm going to deck you," and "I hatehatehate the fucking Hawks," and "The Cubs suck six different kinds of ass."

One week into AA Vecchio and Kowalski style, I'm awake, it's two in the morning, and I'm going to start tearing into the walls. Literally. Rear back my fists and start getting real friendly with plaster and lathe. I'm hurting and either I hurt so bad elsewhere that I don't feel the hurt in my heart, or I take a drink to numb myself. Cause the only thing going to stop me from going ape-shit from this goddamned ache is a drink.

Or Vecchio.

I called his cell and he picked it right up, his voice all irritated and awake, like he's not sleeping either.


"Kowalski." Don't know if he heard it in my voice, but all he said back was, "I'll be right over."

Kind of amazed me that that piece-of-shit Riv could push it like that. Must have used the portable flashers cause he was there so fast I hadn't even finished lacing up my boots. Not like I was going to go out and find an all night liquor store or nothing.

I opened the door to his leaning on the buzzer. He had a suit bag in one hand, the kind with some sort of logo on it so that the sad fuckers like me who can't afford clothing like that know what's in the bag, and those real expensive loafers of his in the other, the sort of shoes that get shined. He'd squished a pair of socks around those things you put in shoes. Shoes twigs? No, shoe trees. Stella had them. Entire forests were felled to keep Stella's expensive don't-fuck-with-me-I'm-tough pumps all pumpy and don't-fuck-with-me.

I looked at the shoe trees. I looked at him.

"You are such a fucking chick, Vecchio."

"One more word and these shoe trees are going to be shoved up your ass."

He checked out my half-laced up boots and that I'm wearing my jacket. With nothing more than a shake of his head, he said, "You got a deck of cards?"

I shrugged a yeah.

"Get 'em," he ordered and went into the bedroom to hang up his suit.

After about sixteen games of gin rummy I said, "Okay." I checked him out and he looked beat. His eyes go real green when he's tired. "You okay?"

He nodded. "We can get a couple of hours in. When was the last time you changed those sheets? Not sleeping on the couch, I'm too old for that shit. We share."

I gave it some thought. Sheets? Mom was over… Since I got back? Uh. Four? Five months…

He cuffed the side of my head. "You are disgusting."

Which is how we ended up changing the sheets on my bed at three thirty in the morning. When it was made, Vecchio stripped down to his wife beater and a pair of silk boxers and slipped into bed. "You might improve your potential for getting some if you weren't such a fucking pig."

Like I was in the mood for some. I stood there thinking about the last person I had "some" with, and it wasn't a smart-mouthed asshole with a big nose.

"You getting in bed any time this century? Stanleeeeeey."

I was gonna make some comment about him and his shoe trees and aren't those great conversation starters, but realized that those shoe trees probably earned him a hell of a lot of points in Stella land. I climbed in and muttered, "Shut the fuck up, Vecchio."

Like, I said, it took a couple of months, In the meantime, sometimes he called me, sometimes I called him. It was nothing more than saying each other's names, and he'd show up at my door with his stuff in hand. We played a lot of gin rummy in the middle of the night and stayed sober.

I'm not denying that maybe that freak storm had something to do with me snapping. That tight feeling of claustrophobia you get in a white out, where the walls are real close, too close to that storm and all that white. And you can't go out because that would be all kinds of stupid, plus really cold. I don't like being told I can't do something, even if it's being said real loud by sixteen millions tons of snow and ice. I'd be lying if I wasn't also thinking Arctic Circle and all that white and, well, other stuff.

I was staring out my kitchen window at the snow, the view a little obscured by the flowerpots sitting on the windowsill filled with Vecchio's herbs, having a cup of really good coffee from the espresso machine that at some point appeared on my kitchen counter, God knows when. Vecchio's bitching about the storm and rattling the newspaper, grousing that it's supposed to last all weekend and isn't that the shits cause no one was playing baseball in a white-out, when all of sudden I realized that we were sharing the kitchen table in the morning more than we weren't and that Vecchio had sort of moved in.

Or at least a lot of stuff had moved in.

Not anywhere but the kitchen and the bathroom, mind you. The living room was still all Kowalski. But candlesticks stuck in crystal candlestick holders appeared one night on my kitchen table and stayed, and then the glasses I'd picked up, six for ninety-nine cents, were shoved to the back of the cupboard and replaced by tall globlet-y glasses with lots of swirly gold crap etched on the glass. And my cow plates had joined the cheap glasses and we were eating osso buco off of real china. And I was holding real silverware. Like silver silverware. And flowerpots with green things growing out of them appeared on my kitchen windowsill. And a set of real nice towels, the kind that cost money and begged the water off your body, were hung next to my ratty towels with the ragged edges from being washed so much.

When I added it all up I flipped. Fucking flipped. Because who in the hell does he think he is? Stella? Making me look like some two-bit Polack from a bad neighborhood every time I picked up a glass?

"Fuck the storm and fuck you. What is all this shit?" I pointed to the flowerpots; "That," to the espresso machine; "That," to the china stained from my coffee. "What is all this crap doing in my apartment? What does this shit do for you? Huh? Style pig. Who do you think you are? With the suits in the plastic and those fucking shoe trees and the loafers that cost more than I make in a week. Newsflash, Vecchio. Your shit stinks as much as mine. This is about staying sober, not reminding me I'm some lower-class punk you need to educate about the finer things in life. I put up with this shit from Stella, and I'm not putting up with it from you. I—"

I shut up because I was ready to pop him. Haul back and break that nose for all those "Stanleeeees" and comments about what a pig I was and…

He put down his coffee, which I think is a hell of a good thing because I want to pound his face, not fling hot coffee all over my kitchen.

"Chip on your shoulder much, Kowalski? Not about you, asshole." He got up, searched around in the back of the cupboard for a second, brought out a chipped and stained coffee mug that said, "Detectives Do It with Handcuffs," filled it with more coffee, and plonked it down in front of me, removing the china cup at the same time. "Here."

"Let me tell you something, Stanley. I grew up with an asshole for a father. Beat the shit out of Ma, beat us kids, didn't give a damn about food on the table as long as he had enough in his paycheck to booze it up regular. He kept it up until I was old enough and big enough to smash his worthless ass against the wall and tell him that if he ever touched Ma, Maria, or Frannie again, I'd kill him. How does this relate to all this?" He swept a manicured hand over the kitchen. "You been to Ma's house plenty of times. She's got all those frigging knick-knacks. You know, those stupid figurines of kids with big eyes and animals and what not. When my pop was really pissed, he'd break all that shit on purpose, and she'd replace them all, one by one. On his measly salary. Anyways, Pop's been dead a couple of years and the figurine population has tripled. Man, there wasn't a surface in the entire house that wasn't covered with this shit. I asked her, 'Ma, why do you have all this stuff?' She said to me, 'Ray, they're my pretty in this life. I didn't have much pretty when you kids were growing up. I had you three and you were my favorite pretties, but other than that? No. When things were really bad, I could look at my Hummel figures and see something pretty in a whole lot of ugliness.' He stood up and set his china cup in the sink. "Things are really bad right now, Stanley. The clothes? This stuff? I need some pretty in my life. For now, this is the only place I can bring my pretty. To be honest, I think you could use some pretty in your life too. But you want to drink your coffee out of a chipped coffee mug that you got as a freebie at some cop convention, be my fucking guest."

I don't say nothing because this was miles different than Stella dragging me to Marshall Field's and buying five hundred bucks worth of wine glasses because she'd seen them in a magazine and amber was the new color for fall. Or decking me out in an expensive suit for that year's Christmas party at the law firm with the admonition, "Don't embarrass me."

"You gonna kick me in the head?" Vecchio asked.

All the fight was out of me. I looked at my coffee mug; it was chipped all around the rim and the letters were faded. I shook my head.

"Gonna take a shower. Then maybe we can catch some California ball on ESPN. A's are hot this year."

I waited until he was out of the kitchen before I dumped my coffee and threw the mug away.

Four months into this, we hadn't killed each other. Dinnertime was a lot of shoptalk. My stupid partner is stupider than yours, this is what he did today, talk. When the weather warmed up, Saturday mornings were devoted to shopping at a farmer's market near my place that I never knew existed. (This, Stanley, is a zucchini. This, an eggplant. They're vegetables. Some people, like anyone with a brain, eats them on a regular basis. Shut the fuck up, Vecchio. It was a lot like Fraser's nagging, only Vecchio wasn't polite about it.) Saturday afternoons we'd work on the cars. Sundays I slept in, real sleeping in, like until noon, then we'd go to Ma Vecchio's for an early dinner, where I spent most of my time playing with Frannie's toddler and listening to the Vecchios fight with each other. It's hard to sit through even though you know it's love that's shouting.

Today was no different. I had just sat through bruschetta, soup, pasta, fish, and cannoli, the entire time discussing why "Raimundo's" clothes smelled like smoke. They smelled like smoke because the fucker's smoking my cigarettes, but I don't say that. As soon as I could, I split with Frannie's kid and headed out to the backyard with him to play. But I could still hear them. All four of them shouting at each other. Frannie trying to stick up for Vecchio, reminding her mother that I smoke. Which doesn't mean shit, apparently. Because it's okay that I smoke. And then Tony hinting that Vecchio smokes. And then Maria yelling at Tony to shut up because he smokes and they cost over four bucks a pack and if he was working it wouldn't be a problem but… Yeah, it was loud and non-stop.

He was driving me back to my place, his hand beating some sort of frustrated tempo on the steering wheel, when he turned to me and said, "I'm thinking of moving out."

I thought, "Hey, I hear you." I said, "Don't rush things, Vecchio. You're only thirty-nine."

He doesn't lay into me like I thought he was going to, but continued to beat out a tempo on the steering wheel.

He doesn't call me that night and I don't call him.

For the next couple of weeks after dinner he was either hunkered over the want ads looking for a place to stay or leaving as soon as the dishes were washed to scope out apartments. I didn't say anything but I was kinda wondering if this was the end of this buddy thing we had going on. The real hard-core ache was gone, mostly, and if I really thought about it, it was mondo-ass weird that I was sharing my bed with Vecchio four nights a week and we weren't fucking each other.

Still, Vecchio and I kinda got each other. When I'd tell him the latest dumb ass partner story to him, he'd shake his head and say, "Stupid ass motherfucker." He wouldn't say, "Well, Ray, the learning curve for a detective is fairly steep…" or "Given that Detective Cavanaugh's only been on the job six months, it is unrealistic to expect him to…" the sort of shit that I'd have gotten from Fraser. Because I had a real right to bitch about it and Vecchio got that. It was the worst of both worlds; like working with a really crazy incompetent Fraser. Your ass nearly got killed, every day (the crazy Fraser part), but he didn't have the skills to stop your ass from getting killed (the incompetent Fraser part).

Plus me and Vecchio? Together we kinda neutralized each other. Like chemistry class in high school, where you got all these chemicals just sitting on the shelves and, shit, you've got Lenny Kurz for your lab partner. I used to do random VICAP checks on Lenny Kurz, because that turned on glow I saw in his eyes while mixing chemicals was identical to the one I seen in guys checking out Stella's ass. And in serial arsonists. I stopped when my mom piped up one day, "You'll never guess who I got a phone call from. Leonard Kurz's mother. He's career military and doing very well." Yeah, I bet. He now gets paid to blow up things. Bet it's a forty-hour a week jack-off for him. Anyway, Lenny had some sort of death wish and spent the entire nine months mixing and matching chemical cocktails because wouldn't it be cool if we blew up the classroom, Ray? I considered it a fucking miracle I had all ten fingers by the end of the school year. Then I realized that all these chemicals sort of cancelled each other out, which is why our chemistry teacher, Mr. Kobanis, still had his eyebrows after thirty years.

Vecchio and I are like that.

It's not like Vecchio and I were doing shit in bed, cause we weren't. But it was nice to wake up in the night and hear someone sleeping. Vecchio and I had both been divorced, him twice. We knew how to do that Mason-Dixon line shit in bed. Like you have your side, and if you go over that imaginary line, knife-wielding assassins are going to instantly materialize in the bedroom and hack off an elbow or a kneecap. Something like that. So I kept to my side and he kept to his. He snored some, but I never called him on it, because the noise was a reminder I had someone next to me, even if it was Vecchio and even if it was because I'm trying to save my liver.

Which doesn't explain why every night I saw him with that goddamned newspaper I wanted to grab it and shove it down his fucking throat.

I'd been on stakeout for the last few nights and was in a super pissy ass mood. Being on stakeout with stupid young partner was always the shits. The danger factor was minimized, but the frustration factor was damn near over the top. The guy had the life I thought I'd have. His second kid was about to pop out, his wife wanted at least one more. He was working lots of OT to make the mortgage in a neighborhood that I'd used to drive through when I was a rookie, fantasizing that Stel and I would eventually live there. Yeah, well, JD degree and fifteen years later, someone else's got my kids and my mortgage. And it's worse because he was happy. Oh yeah, he groused every now and then that his wife tended to rack up the cards, but he was happy. On stakeout, we'd sit there for hours and he'd talk about his kids and his wife and his house, I'd talk about Turtle and Vecchio, which wasn't much more than six minutes worth, max. Cause I don't talk about Canada and I don't talk about my life pre-Canada and I'm not talking about Vecchio and I calling each other at two in the morning with the heebee-jeebies. And once you put out there that Turtle seems to like red leaf over iceberg, there ain't a whole lot more to say. It made me really pissed off and sad.

Hauling my ass up to the stairs and seeing Vecchio parked at my front door hiked up the pissy points by about a thousand.

I held up a hand. "Been up all night with the detective wannabe. Need some z's." I fumbled with the lock and key cause my eyes don't work so well when I'm tired. Vecchio took the key out of my hand and with that smooth thing he has going on, opened my door in one easy motion.

"When you get up, we need to talk."

That stopped me because Vecchio and I didn't talk. Not about real stuff. Ever.

I grabbed his bicep. "Is—"

"It's not Fraser. Chill."

I shuffled in and threw my keys and jacket in the corner. I was dead tired but that rush woke me up, and I knew I'd be up for another couple of hours. Vecchio followed me into the kitchen and shoved me out of the way when I went to make some toast.

"I'll make you some eggs, too. You're still too skinny."

"Bite me, Vecchio. What's so goddamned important that you're here at 6:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning?"

"I've been apartment hunting, right?"

"Yeah, newsflash," I yawned and ignored the tearing in my gut.

"So, I found a place. It's frigging perfect," he said over his shoulder. I don't say nothing. "How long you got on this lease?"

That shook me. "On month to month. Why?"

He started to get real busy with the spatula, flipping eggs with one hand, grabbing the toast when it came out of the toaster with the other. "It's too big for me. Two bedrooms. I can't make the rent by myself. But maybe, you and me…"

"Actually move in together? Kinda like chicks? Are you high?"

He placed my toast and eggs in front of me. "It's got an attached garage big enough for two cars and it doesn't smell like Fraser."

The garage made me agree to at least look at it.

Vecchio let me sleep until two. He kept thumping me awake on the drive there, until I was about ready to break his face at the next red light, when we pulled up to a real nice building in a so-so neighborhood, not yet in "transition." The kind of Chicago that makes you realize you were a total fucking idiot for leaving it: lots of trees lining the block, a mom and pop place on the corner, a bakery a few doors down, a shoe repair place across the street. A neighborhood.

I don't say nothing, but he's scoped me out scoping the area out and already takes it for a victory because he's got that smug Vecchio grin that reaches from ear to ear but with no teeth and all attitude.

"Yeah, so?" I grumbled.

The landlord let us in and it's a dream apartment. Fresh paint, newly refinished floors, sun most of the day.

"Air-conditioning and you've haven't even seen the garage yet," Vecchio dropped on me, oh so casual, when I was checking out the bedrooms, both the same size so I couldn't even argue for the bigger one.

"Yeah?" he asked me when I'd circled the entire place for a fifth time. "Okay, Ray," he said, and that woke me up. "You gonna sign?"

"Maybe," I hedged.

"First things first. We're getting a deal on the rent because we're cops. Landlord likes that. Likes it so much he threw in the garage for free. This is his retirement and he wants to keep the neighborhood good. To make this work, can you pretend that you're still living in that rat hole with me, sort of, and that there are like limits to how disgusting things get? Like I don't care what goes on in your bedroom since I don't have to park my ass there several nights a week anymore, but can we keep the living room free of pizza boxes? The bathroom free of most crud? How about the living room is yours, the kitchen is mine, and the bathroom is just kept clean because otherwise I'm turning you over to scientists to discover why you haven't died from mold inhalation."

I shrugged an okay. It wasn't any different from what we've been doing and this was a much nicer place.

"Go designer on me and I'm outta here," I warned.

"Okay," he agreed and held up his hands in surrender. "Now you tell me about Fraser and I'll tell you about Stella, because we can't live together and have those two sitting at the table every night like they've been doing."

At that I tensed up cause I haven't talked about Fraser to anyone, and I don't want to talk about him to Vecchio. Too many issues there. Like issues, you know?

"I'll put my failure out there first since you're being so chicken-shit about this. I talk to him every Sunday. How am I going to avoid talking about you when you're living here?"

I backed up until I hit a wall, and then slid down to the floor. I wanted to hear about this and I didn't. Was enough of an asshole that I was kinda glad it didn't work out for them because I couldn't face the idea of someone else being able to make her happy when I couldn't, but I also couldn't imagine being brave enough to tie the knot again and have it blow up in your face not six months later. I motioned with my head something that was fairly close to a nod.

"You done undercover. You know what it's like to come out of it. Takes a while."

Yeah, I knew. You park a little corner of yourself in that small part of your brain that says Top Secret. In the beginning you take it out and look at it a lot to keep reminding yourself who you really are, but that's real dangerous so you stop. And you look less and less and then sometimes you're not sure who's the real you. The guy you've been pretending to be for twenty-four months or the guy who's hunkered down in Top Secret? After awhile you're not even sure you can find that Top Secret place again, and you're not even sure if you want to find it. Coming off of that? It's a clusterfuck. Every frigging time. Helped this last time that I had Frase, because he never treated me like Vecchio. Let me keep a foot in the real world. No one could do that for Vecchio, so I understood that hard, bitter look on his face.

"I come back from Vegas, and it's real hard to let go of Armando. Oh, I don't flinch when someone calls me Vecchio, but I'm moving and thinking like that other guy. I appreciate like you wouldn't believe the Armani and the two-hundred-dollar dress shirts. Clothes so nice it made my mouth drool. And I wasn't a slouch in that department before. Man, I was so down with that, but along with that whole package came this guy called Armando. Who I don't like so much. In fact, I hate that motherfucker, and being who he is, he's real hard to shake off. When I met Stella, I fell for her, not Armando. Tough break. She doesn't fall for Ray, she falls for Armando because the me in there was still fighting to come out. I don't want to think about why in the hell she fell in love with a Las Vegas mobster." He stopped and wiped a hand across his brow. "Okay, maybe not such a hard thing to understand. She's got something of a power kink, as I found out. But she finally realized that she wasn't getting Armando when I told her I wasn't selling the bowling alley to some real-estate developer so the two of us could live the high-stepping life in Miami. That, yeah, I knew it was beachfront property, but why not the two of us just settle down. Be with each other. I'll never forget the look on her face when she said, 'I see.'"

I knew that look. It was the we-are-not-conveniently-forgetting-the-birth-control look. We-are-not-buying-that-cheap-shit-house-in-that-crappy-neighborhood-I-want-to-live-by-the-lake-in-a-fancy-condo look.

"By the end of the week, she'd contacted Senator Viagra's office and was working pro bono. By the end of the month, she was hired on full time. Four months later, she walked into the bowling alley, handed me her ring, and said, 'You know, I learned a lot from the first go around. Cut your losses early. I'm sorry, Ray.' She's now chairing his reelection campaign, waiting for wife number one to kick the bucket—she's got cancer—so that Stel can finally rock and roll big time in D.C."

I got nothing to say to that other than, "She didn't used to be like that."

"Yeah, I caught glimpses," he said quietly and then smiled that Cheshire cat smile of his. "Hey, we had some good times before reality set in. I have to admit it kind of pissed me off that she didn't even divorce me." I started at that. "Yeah, she made like a lawyer and annulled it. Guess being married twice, both times to cops, wouldn't go over real well with the D.C. crowd. The first one she could claim she was young and stupid, the second?"

Man, he was cool. When Stella handed me back my ring, I went to pieces for two years. Probably would still be stalking her if it hadn't been for Fraser. Just leapfrogging from relationship failure to relationship failure…

"Stanley. Your turn. Fraser."

I got up because I couldn't stay still and say this. Wrapping my arms around myself as if bits and pieces were just going to sheer off and splatter that newly painted wall, I began pacing the length and breadth of the living room. Might as well put it out there.

"You know that Fraser and I were ass-banditing it?"

If I hadn't been across the room, he would have cuffed my head. "What? You think I'm stupid? That you high-tailed it back here from ice-field central because Fraser beat you at a few hands of Old Maid?"

"Bite me, Vecchio. I read your jacket, cover to cover, and nothing that way. Okay? Need to…" yeah, just lay it out there. "Need to make sure you're okay with me sharing this place with you. Lots of guys… Lots of cops wouldn't, knowing that. Just so you know. I was pretty surprised myself when I started eying Fraser's ass with intent. Had never… Tits and ass still do it for me, but I'm just now open to… Whatever. Don't think I'm a full-blown queer, just not as picky any more. So, you're…alright with it?"

I was still holding myself because suddenly I was really afraid of the answer. That clenching bullshit in my stomach started up again; the same clenching I'd get every time I'd see him scanning the rental lists.

"Yeah, I'm okay with it." He leaned against the wall as if real tired.

"You sure?" I pressed, even though the clenching was easing up enough that I was pretty sure I wasn't going to throw up now. Wouldn't impress the new landlord if I hurled across his nicely polished floor, now would it?

"Kowalski, you fucking deaf? I said I was okay with it. You…" Vecchio all of a sudden saw something fascinating out the window because he looked away for just a second and then was back. Really back. "You do stuff in Vegas, right? You start pushing boundaries to do the job and once you start pushing, crossing lines. Lots of things… The old boundaries don't mean much. A big one falls, they all fall."

I opened my mouth…

"Don't ask, Kowalski," he said, his eyes not even green anymore, just big badass black with warning.

On second thought, maybe I really didn't want to know, cause Vegas is the World Series of being undercover. Pretty fucking amazing he actually was able to crawl out from that gig and still be alive. That took some awesome balls and smarts. But, like I said, he was real good. He was standing there, his shoulders slouchy, easy, the tone of his voice, casual; like maybe we should get something to eat casual. I never would have known he was ready to punch the wall behind him if I hadn't been looking for it. Yeah, right there. The thumbnail of his right hand was biting into his knuckle.

I started pacing again cause I didn't want to see his face.

"Was Stella surprised? About me and Fraser?"

He laughed and I stopped in my tracks.

"Are you kidding? She said you were such a fucking horn dog that if it didn't walk on all fours and moo or baa, you'd be on them like white on rice. She was cool with it."

That made it okay all of a sudden. Not in the big picture. Still missed that Canadian doofus like I'd miss my right leg if it got cut off, but I could tell Vecchio what happened up north and not feel like my soul was being clawed out of me.

"FYI. We didn't do anything until we went on that goddamned adventure. Didn't even think about doing anything. Then we were up there with nothing but snow and ice and the dogs, no noise. And I mean not just sounds, like taxis honking their horns or people shouting or dogs barking, well, scratch that, those damn dogs barked all the time, but no…life noise. No failed marriage, no shitty apartment, no… Anyway, you see things differently. Or maybe those things are always there and you can't see them because of all the noise. Then you're out there with nothing but yourself… You know?" I stopped pacing because Vecchio had been up there; he had to know what I mean. Maybe no one else might get it, but Vecchio should.

He nodded. "Been there. Yeah."

Suddenly, the lack of sleep got to me. I found a corner, slid down the wall, propped my knees up, and shut my eyes.

"You can't know Fraser without loving the guy, right?" Assumed that Vecchio nodded because it was a given with Fraser. "But up there, up on the ice, just him and me, I fell in love with him. We talked about my staying. Should have been a clue. He didn't exactly ask me to stay, but didn't say he didn't want me to. Doesn't matter, cause in a totally fucked up way, he did want me to. For the first couple of months I was in heaven. Wrangled a few months leave out of Welsh to see if I could hack it. Was so committed to making it work this go around. Not fuck it up like I did with Stella. Even found a job working with at-risk teens. I was this close to packing up my life down here and just do it. Then…"

This was the part that was gonna hurt. Yep, right on time.


"Yeah, yeah. Keep your shirt on." If there had been a bottle of hooch in the room, I would have killed Vecchio with my bare hands to get to it, because I still had some raw bits inside, was still fucking bleeding after all these months. Christ, this sucked. "Took a while but I realized that he loved me, yeah, but he wasn't in love with me. You know him. He has this utterly screwed thing about laying himself open for people, taking that selflessness to the highest possible level. In my case that included blow jobs. He'd fuck me and let me fuck him because he loves me and he thought that's what I wanted and needed."

Man, did I want that and need that, but I wasn't willing to be his lifelong pity fuck to get it. I wasn't sure at first if that was it, so I stopped with the hands. Just let it go. Fraser's normal, got a dick that likes to be touched, so we didn't stop fucking entirely, but it wasn't this raging need with him. Like it was with me. It was sort of part and parcel of the buddies up north gig. Meet Ray, my best friend, who I really love and will do anything for. Even suck him off if he wants. Not. Fucking. Enough. The day I realized that my desire to punch him started to outweigh my desire to fuck him was the day I bought a plane ticket back to Chicago.

"Sounds like Benny. The guy's sort of contained," Vecchio said softly, but his voice still echoed throughout the empty room. "He's gone so long without, I don't know if he wants or even knows how to make it work when he's got it. Don't mean shit right now because… He does love you. Not maybe…" Vecchio opened his hands like he got nothing and left it at that.

"Got the memo, thanks. So you get why I left. I don't know if he gets it, but I couldn't stay any longer. At the very least I would have pounded him at some point, and I promised him I wouldn't do that again." I looked up and saw outrage on Vecchio's face. "Lose the attitude. I didn't put a freaking bullet in his back. And don't read me song and verse about that bank-robbing bitch cause I know all about it. Fraser might delude himself that you weren't aiming for him, but we both know you're too good a cop to make that sort of rookie mistake. And he hit me back so we're even on that score."

He let me simmer down a little and then said, "So why did you leave?"

I couldn't help but snarl a little because mixed in with tons of hurt was lots of mad. "I'm nearly forty fucking years old, Vecchio. It's time I was number one with someone. Most days Mountie shit was number one, sometimes Dief edged out the Mountie shit. Then there was your general all-purpose Canada shit. On a good day I was number four. Most days I was down around six, battling for number five with the guy who fixed the snowmobiles. Who, I admit, was really important because if your snowmobile went on the fritz you were screwed. Fraser was number one for me. I was ready to move my life and make him my life. I was making a whole lot of room for him. He couldn't… Not much room at the Benton Fraser Inn. At least my reservation wasn't no good."

I'd been number one with Stella. Not for a whole lot of years, but enough so that I knew what it felt like, and I was goddamned if I was going to be fifth best, with the added bonus of being Benton Fraser's personal hair-shirt for the next thirty years. Was enough of an-ex Catholic to spot that gig and who knew Presbyterians had more of a market on that shit? All right, it's a twenty-four seven Fraser gig. I shouldn't trash those poor Presbyterians.

Vecchio didn't say anything else, just kept slouching against the wall. Even his casual clothes were as close to a suit as you can get. Tailored khakis with button-down shirts with lots of tiny stitching. Weirdo.

"So I came back. You left Florida and came back."

He made a sort of half-ass chuckle. The kind of laugh that hurts.

"You don't walk away from a woman like Stella without some serious scar tissue—like you don't know—but more or less."

Stella hadn't called me when she left Vecchio. I'd heard it from my mom. I got the sanitized Stella version, how they'd both realized they made a mistake, blahblahblah. Seeing Vecchio hugging the wall with his back made me wonder how raw his scars still were, and whether he'd kill me if I had the scotch bottle in my hand right now.

"He can't be named 'Viagra.' You check this guy out?"

Vecchio snorted. "Course I checked him out. Called some people I know." He said it all nonchalant like he'd talked to Welsh and maybe Frannie helped him out a little. Didn't fool me none. I bet he knew people. Not people I'd want to know, cause if I did, I'm pretty sure he'd have to kill me. "He's okay. Seems to really dig her. I call him that because he takes about ten pills to get it up. Poor old Stel. Hope she likes that D.C. scene because she's not going to get much hot-sheet action. Not like with you and—"

"Hey!" I flung myself off the wall and got up real fast. "Were you two talking about me because that's so not buddies and—"

"Jesus Christ, would you dial it down?" he growled. "It's amazing you didn't melt the polar ice caps when you were up there, you run so fucking hot all the time."

Took about ten seconds, but I brought it down a few notches. "We got all this history with the same people. It gets to me sometimes, okay?" I grumbled.

"Yeah, I know. But chill. One time. One time she said you were a hell of a fuck. Nothing else. Just so you know, she's real protective of you. Didn't diss you or make any sort of comparisons. She's classy like that. What am I telling you this for? You know how classy she is."

I knew. It was so freaky that we knew so much about the others in each other's lives and nothing about each other.

"Besides, give me a frigging break," he continued. "Like I want to talk about the stud prowess of my wife's ex-husband, who happens to be fucking my best friend?" I knew it was coming. The three beats, then, "Stanley."

For once I didn't feel like popping him when he pulled that crap on me.

"Make you feel inadequate, Vecchio? Being a pretty hard act to follow and all." I grinned.

"In your dreams, Kowalski. I'm a fucking god in bed, too. Let's sign the lease and then get something to eat."

Life wasn't that much different. Vecchio didn't move anything into the apartment except a fucking ton of suits, three thousand ties, forty pairs of shoes, a bed, a humongous dresser, and all that kitchen crap he'd already parked in my old apartment. That was it. With my stuff in the living room, it looked like my old place but a hell of a lot nicer, and Vecchio was right. It didn't smell like Fraser and no little bits of old wolf hair stuck to my socks. I had the bed back to myself. Got a little anxious about that, but go figure; it was enough just to know that Vecchio was sleeping next door. I didn't have no heebie-jeebie fits at two whatever fucking a.m., which made wiping the bathroom down a couple of times a week worth it. And no way was I complaining about that espresso machine. It was the Goat of coffeemakers. If I ever moved out, I was taking it with me.

We still did the Sunday dinner with his ma thing, but Vecchio cooked pretty much every night except for game nights. Said it was a stress buster. Huh? Put a pan and a spatula in front of me and, man, talk about stress, but it seemed to work for him. We'd pound back our sparkling water and chat about the day. Like that day detective wannabe pulled a Fraser on me with a gangbanger. Fucker had a Glock in one hand and a bunch of clips in the other, plus extra clips hanging out of his bad-ass gangbanger pants pockets. Enough bullets to bring down the entire 2-7 about six times. Stupid ass partner walked up to him, showed his badge, and asked him to drop the gun.

Vecchio was using a scissors (pardon my ass, shears—"My kitchen shears, Kowalski. I see you using them to cut your toenails and I'm going to cut out your heart with them") to snip herbs into a sauce that smelled hell of good.

"That kid's gonna get you killed. I heard you winged the guy. Weren't wearing your glasses were you?"

"Didn't have time to put them on. Stupid asshole just walks up to the guy. But I did get his shooting arm. Doc says there's permanent nerve damage. Gonna have to jerk-off with his left hand for the rest of his life. Boo fucking hoo. Worth being on desk duty for the next couple of weeks."

He stopped snipping, turned around, and gave me an appreciative nod. "Way to go, Kowalski. Way to go."

It was kinda cool.

Two weeks in the new place and I'm sleeping in. Which is why God created Sundays as far as I am concerned, especially since we have to do the farmer's market thing on Saturday morning. Cause all the good stuff will be snatched up by that evil yuppie couple if we don't get there, like, when they're unloading the trucks. What a sight. Vecchio in his "casual" duds (which are tons nicer than the clothes I wear when I gotta go to court), helping them unload the trucks, plucking the crates of whatnot out of the hands of these farmers, determined to get the primo pears or peas (which I will never admit to Vecchio are so sweet even I don't mind eating them). The yuppie couple are early, too, but not early enough. They always give Vecchio the evil eye, cause right from the get go he laid on that Vegas charm with a goddamned trowel, and now the vendors save the best for him. I can see how he must have worked the floor in the casino, laying it on nice and thick, the back-slapping, the smile, the chatter about the weather. Smooth as can be, I see him slipping an extra bill in with the total and feel like telling those sorry-ass yuppies to just give it up; they don't stand a chance against Vecchio when he's working it.

So I get my ass out of bed on Saturdays to do the market thing and then we do the bakery thing and the coffee thing and I really like Saturday mornings; they've somehow become way cool. But I don't get to sleep in. Sunday mornings are sacrosanct, and Vecchio knows this, so there is no fucking excuse for coming into my room, ripping the covers off of me, and then saying in a kinda loud voice, "Get your ass out of bed, Kowalski."

I mumbled back, "Fuck off," and slapped around with one hand for the edge of the covers, because I was getting another couple of hours in or there was gonna be a dead body on the floor of this bedroom real soon and it wasn't gonna be mine.

"We're going to church. Get dressed."

I couldn't have heard that right, but unfortunately it woke me up, because I'd rather have someone whack all ten of my fingers with a ball-peen hammer than go to church.

"Vecchio, what the—"

"Church. St. Bridget's. Mass starts in forty minutes. Throw on some clothes."

Okay, no way to misinterpret that. He said church and mass. Clear as day. And I don't know no bakeries named St. Bridget's. Had he lost his fucking mind?

I rolled over and was about to really lay into him, just ream him out, when I saw his face. It was his heebie-jeebie face with about six layers of exhaustion on top of it.

I nodded. "Give me ten."

Soon as mass began, I started having major flashbacks to seventh grade and Sister Concepta. What that woman could do with a ruler. She'd angle it just right and then lay into you, coming thiiiiiis close to breaking the skin but never did. She probably moonlighted as some senior advisor to those torture schools down in South America. She hated my fidgety ass something fierce. She used to sit behind me at mass, Monday through Friday, and if I so much as blinked, she'd grab my neck and do something with her thumb that hurt like holy fuck, which would then leave me totally paralyzed for about five minutes.

Me and the nuns never hit it off. Every June I could hear that year's teacher thanking Christ that that weird, nerve-ball kid, Kowalski, was moving on up. Then every September I could hear my new teacher getting down on her knees and sobbing her heart out, begging God to tell her what sins she'd committed to have me in her class. Happiest day of my life? When my parents decided they couldn't afford Catholic high-school tuition, and that I'd have to go to public high school. A-fucking-men.

Mass had changed a lot since the last time I'd parked my butt in a pew. I didn't know the cues and was about half a second too late in getting up or kneeling, but Vecchio seemed right at home with it. Like he'd been going to mass at some point in the recent past. I was dying here, so during the sermon I started jiggling my leg and tapping some Pretenders out on my thigh, earning me a thump on the arm.

"What are you? Six years old? Cut it out," he whispered.

"It's as boring as all fuck."

"Watch your mouth and suck it up."

Finally, it was over. How can forty-five minutes seem like a fucking lifetime? I was ready to sprint out the door, when Vecchio said, "You wait outside. I gotta…" and hiked his head toward the confessional box.

Okay, the weirdest of the weird, but hey, I do what the man said; I smoked a few in the park across the street and waited for him. Didn't think the priest would appreciate my heathen ass polluting the air around the church. Vecchio was in there forever. I was about to head to the car, wondering if I'd missed him, when I saw him come out the door. He saw me standing there and nudged his chin in the direction of the car.

We met up, and he flipped the lock to let me in. His face doesn't look any better than it did before mass so I don't say nothing until we're almost home.

"Vecchio, you believe in God and shit?"

Because I just didn't get the whole faith thing. Just didn't get it. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I did, you know, give it up to someone or something that has some power, cause I certainly didn't have none, and wouldn't it be nice if they sent a little greatness my way? Like can you make Fraser love me in the ways I want? And earlier, I would have prayed my ass off to keep my marriage to Stella together. But I couldn't go there and really didn't understand people who did.

He didn't answer for the longest time. In fact, we had pulled up to the apartment and were actually in the garage before he said, "No, I don't."

"Then why—"

"I did things in Vegas, Kowalski. I could be on my knees for a hundred years, my skeleton saying the rosary, and it wouldn't put a dent in number of Hail Mary's and Our Father's—"

The drinking. The heebie-jeebies. It wasn't about Stella at all.

"If you don't believe, then why—"

"I gotta talk to someone."

A month after we moved in together I come from work about an hour late, because I got a flat halfway home and that was the time to discover my spare needed air? It was a Friday night and I was beat. The tire was just the capper to a totally crappy afternoon. The lieu had been riding my ass about my paperwork (some things never change), and I'd just spent the last four hours fighting with the printer. The printer always wins. And I know it's because evil, invisible aliens live in the guts, whose sole mission on this planet is to cause paper jams. Just cause you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there.

He was on the phone, still in his suit, nothing on the stove. Wasn't a game night, so I thought, okay, maybe we get pizza tonight or Chinese. Fine by me. Reaching into the fridge to grab a bottle of that fizzy lime-flavored water we've become addicted to, I sneak to the other side of the kitchen so he couldn't see me. He hated it when I did this. I wrapped my lips around the top and chugged a bunch of water right from the bottle. Then I heard what he was saying, froze in place, and then spit out what I got in my mouth, spraying everything within a three-foot radius.

"Vecchio. It's that stupid fuck Kowalski's fortieth birthday today. Yeah… He's a real stupid fuck. Turning forty don't mean you got brains, especially not him… Don't tell me, I live with him…. At seven if you can, if not, we'll see you when we see you… My house, I mean my ma's house. You been there… Nah, no food, just booze. Ma's got it covered. She'll have enough food to feed a hundred people. Call the guys at the 1-9, would you? Yeah… Yeah… Thanks… Okay."

I heard him slam down the phone. Not good. He came into the kitchen, all Bookman all the time. Which, hell, I admit, completely terrifies me, because he's like on autopilot when he gets like that. There's no stopping him. Not unless you got some serious backup. Like fifty Rangers with hand grenades and portable rocket launchers slung across their shoulders.

"Fraser left a message. So did your mom. Wishing you a happy birthday. Seems like it's someone's fortieth birthday today. Seems like he didn't tell someone. Seems he didn't tell me." Instead of his voice getting louder and louder, which might actually have been okay because yelling for Vecchios was just talking with the volume cranked up. Didn't really mean nothing. But this? His voice was getting quieter and quieter as he walked toward me, and it was scaring the shit out of me. When he was close enough so that I could smell stale coffee on his breath, he said in a near whisper, "You are so fucking dead. When this is over, I am beating the shit out of you. Family don't do this to family and you're family now, Kowalski, whether you like it or not. You got twenty minutes to shower and get dressed. Then we're leaving. If I have to bodily throw that skinny ass of yours in the car, I'm doing it."

The party was pretty okay. Everyone from the 2-7 was there, and lots of guys from the 1-9. I figured a lot of people cancelled their Friday night plans just to be there and, yeah. Greatness.

The nice thing about it being at the last minute was that there weren't any of those cornball lordy-lordy-Ray-is-forty gag gifts—except the package of Pampers that Dewey, showed up with, but I sort of expected it and probably would have keeled over from shock if he hadn't done something stupid like that. Didn't know if Vecchio and Stella were still talking, but they must be because she called during the party to wish me a happy birthday. I acted real pleased, like it was on her hook, but I knew that Vecchio had had a hand in that, and, man, that was stand-up.

People stayed until around midnight, and then Ma Vecchio shooed us home. Said the birthday boy shouldn't have to clean up, but if Raimundo wanted to come over tomorrow morning…

"Yeah, yeah, Ma. I'll be over after we go to the market," Vecchio groused, but not too much so I guessed it wasn't a big deal.

Driving home, I knew I had to say something. To thank him, because it was a real nice party and he didn't have to do that.


He cut me off. "I know, Kowalski, I know. Remember that thought when I haul your ass out of bed on Saturday to go to the market and then on Sunday when we go to mass."

The sex thing didn't start right away. At least with me it didn't. I was one wounded puppy, and I might be a horn dog, but those parts just weren't interested. Period. Don't know when Vecchio started getting Kowalski-inspired boners. He won't say. Flat out ignores me when I ask him. I think it's because it was pretty much in the very beginning, and he don't want to sound like some skank manipulating me into living with him and plotting on jumping my bones at the first chance he got.

Guess I'll never know, but what I do know is that the man let me call the shots.

First night I felt the heat we were over at the Vecchios. I'd run Frannie's kid ragged and he was flaked out in my lap in the porch swing. I had my arms wrapped around him tight so he wouldn't get cold. I kept telling myself that I was going to get up soon and put him to bed, but the weight of him on me, his gentle huffs in and out, in and out, warming my neck, was nice. And it was all I could do to not start crying. I would never have this with my own kid. Never. Closest thing I could come was to borrow Frannie's kids every now and then. I usually didn't get mad at Stella, figuring that I'd done my fair share to fuck things up, but this was the one thing I did get real mad about. That we hadn't done this.

I heard the squeak of the door and Vecchio came out into the dark of the backyard. Probably looking for a cig. Sure enough he reached for my pocket but I batted his hand away.

"No smoking around the kid, moron," I whispered.

"Let me take him. Put him to bed," Vecchio said in a quiet voice.

Without waiting for my answer, he lifted Frannie's toddler out of my arms, shushed him when the kid made some snuffling noises, and took him inside.

I leaned forward, both hands crushing my kneecaps trying to give it up. It wasn't Stella's gig, I got that, and the amount of times I'd been hurt on the job didn't make being a full-time parent an even remotely sane idea, but it still hurt and rankled and if she'd been here I would have said some really ugly things. Lots of cops have kids. Lots of high-profile lawyers have kids. Lots of divorced couples have kids. We could have worked it out, and then I wouldn't be sitting here borrowing Frannie's kid for a couple hours a week.

The squeak of that damn screen door and Vecchio was next to me, the porch swing giving a little at his weight. Instead of bumming a cig like I thought he was going to, he sat down, put his arm around me, and held me. It wasn't a come on, just comfort, and it helped.

After a while I mumbled, "I'm okay."

He backed right off and didn't say nothing. Christ, I needed a smoke. I fumbled in my pocket for my cigarettes. I lit two at once and passed him one. He plucked it out of my hand, his fingers warm and gentle.

We just sat there in the dark of his mother's backyard smoking cigarettes. I was lighting one after the other, sucking 'em down as fast as I could, trying to shake off those mean reds. I'm a sprawler, and our thighs were butted against each other, and as the night deepened, the temperature dropped a couple of degrees and I shivered. Vecchio nudged up against my shoulder so I could steal a little warmth from him. That didn't do it either, even though our sides were pretty much plastered against each other.

What did it? It was when I shivered again and he said, "We should go home," in that velvet voice he uses sometimes when he's being nice to me, and he don't want no one to hear how nice he's being. It's like hearing the perfect cup of coffee in your ear. Real sweet and smooth.

And hot.

I ignored it. It flared up every now and then. Okay, a lot of nows and thens. Sometimes when we were in the car, sitting close to each other. Once at the farmer's market when I saw him working the flower vendor, who from under the table pulled out the most perfect bunch of lilacs you've ever seen and thrust them into Vecchio's hand. Watching him smell the flowers with that gigantic honker of his and the smile on his face… Yeah, big-time boner that day. Sitting on the porch swing together on Sundays evenings having a smoke was now guaranteed boner time. Even if I jerked off in the shower that day, twice even, just the heat of him, combined with the smell of that super-de-dooper expensive shit he slaps on his face, got me up every frigging time.

I was kinda glad I was getting boners again because, hey, even I knew that not getting them was bad news. Like I was dead inside. But getting them back was the biggest hassle. Not exactly a hassle. Now that I had my bedroom to myself I could palm my dick as often as I liked. Which was cool and yet not. Because I was jacking off to nasty thoughts of Fraser—as in down and dirty thoughts—and nasty thoughts of Vecchio—ditto—and it brought back some of the missing Fraser ache and added a whole new freaking-out venue. The are-you-fucking-crazy-thinking-about-doing-Vecchio freakout.

The dog thing added a whole new dimension to that.

A week after my birthday party, I came home and had to struggle to get in the door. Because something was blocking… That something was a hundred-pound bag of dog kibble and a dog bed.

"Vecchio!" I shouted.

"In here," he said as cool as could be. Sometimes that cool stuff got really irritating.

Vecchio was sitting in the kitchen, sipping a glass of water while reading the sports section, ignoring the humongous German Shepard sprawled out at his feet.

"You wanna tell me why we have a dog in our kitchen?"

The dog looked up at me and didn't do that far away thing most dogs did when they first meet you. You know, the "I not sure I trust you yet so you're not seeing my eyes, no way, no how." This dog scoped me out. I scoped him out. He got some attitude, I gave it back. We must have had this stare down for about five minutes, neither one of us giving in.

I broke eye contact when Vecchio started laughing.

"What?" I demanded.

"Man, did I call it." More laughter. "You two are perfect together. Happy birthday."

"What?" I repeated, knowing I was sounding stupid, but this dog was my

"Yeah, happy birthday. Got him from the K-9 unit. They were trying to find a home for him. He's not working out. Smart, real smart, but got lots of attitude and while real loyal to his trainer, won't work with anyone else and doesn't like the other dogs. Is always causing fights. Sounded just like you if you were a dog."

"Would you fuck off?"

I swear to Christ that got a chuckle out of the dog. I knew dog chuckles. Dief was a master at dog chuckling.

"You like dogs. He needs a home. You want him?"

Felt it kick up a bit, because how did he know I liked dogs?

"You talk to Stella about Sparky?"

"You are the most paranoid fuck on the face of this earth. I did not talk to Stel about Sparky, and what kind of lame ass name is that? Me, I don't have a thing for animals, but I can see you do. Seen you with Dief, plus you can't pass by a dog for the life of you. You gotta introduce yourself and ask them their life story and then apologize for not having any treats. You even make nice with the yuppie couple's lab. Don't think I don't notice."

"Hey, she's a nice dog," I protested. "Even if her owners are assholes and would stomp on your dead body given half the chance."

"They can try," he said, with a little bit too much "Bookman" for comfort. "So dump the paranoid shit," he warned. Pointing at the dog he said, "He'll give you something to do while I'm at mass. Play in the park with him. That way you'll see your forty-first birthday, because I sit next to you one more Sunday and your endless twitching, I'm going to snap and beat you to death with a hymnal."

I looked down at the dog and attitude? He was still doing that staring thing.

"You. Come here."

I got up and walked over to Turtle's tank. After a few seconds, he followed. Man, I thought Dief had attitude, this dog had a patent on it.

I pointed at Turtle. "That's off limits. You even think about eating him and we are doneski."

He eyed me some more and then did a chin nod.

"You into getting your ears scratched?"

Another chin nod and I began scratching behind his ears. I had missed this. Really missed this.

"I'm keeping him," I shouted to Vecchio and then set up his bed in my bedroom, threw some dog kibble in a large bowl, and watched him wolf down his dinner.

"You got a name for him?" said Vecchio from behind the newspaper.

"I'm calling him Michigan. Thanks, Vecchio. Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome, Kowalski."

We now had our routine. Saturdays going mano e mano with the evil yuppie couple at the farmer's market, washing down our inevitable victory with some kick-ass Danish and coffee, futzing around the afternoons doing whatever. Sundays, I played with Michigan in the park while he went to mass and then talked to God for an hour. Then we went home, and he called Fraser before we headed over to his ma's for dinner.

I guess he'd done this all along. He had told me he talked to Fraser every Sunday, but now that we were living together and I wasn't sleeping the morning away, he couldn't do it on the Q.T. He never pushed it. I could hear him say stuff like, "Nah, he's out with that dog of his." Or "Gone to the gym, maybe next week."

I knew that at some point I needed to talk to Fraser, needed to let him know that it wasn't him; it was just the way it was and I knew that. But I wasn't there yet by a long shot. It was kinda cool that Vecchio knew that.

We were sitting on the porch swing, having one last cigarette before heading home. It had been Frannie's turn in the hot seat that night. Once again we went through the immaculate conception thing. Everyone scoffing and her protesting, and did it really matter? Not really, but these were Vecchios and why accept the fact she was going have another one when you could have a full-blown, hysterical four-hour scene while eating your dinner.

Vecchio and I don't talk about Frannie's pregnancies because she's obviously happy and doesn't seem to need or want a guy around now that she has the kids. And it was pretty smart of Frannie to play Mary Magdalene, because if she had ever divulged who's been knocking her up, Vecchio would have had to pull the Italian big brother thing and force some jerk to marry her to preserve her honor. Frannie had been married to one jerk, she didn't need another bad marriage. This way, she got her kids, Ma got more grandchildren, I got to pretend they were mine, and Vecchio didn't have to pull a Glock on the guy porking his sister. Like I said, pretty smart of Frannie.

It was getting close to summer, and the weather was about to change from nice to real nice. Those perfect three weeks before summer starts in, before it got scorching and humid enough to curl even Vecchio's hair. Mitch was asleep at my feet. Vecchio and I were having a smoke, and it was about as perfect as life gets. I hadn't thought I'd ever have this sort of peace again. I don't get peace easily. Not really wired for it, which is maybe why losing Fraser was so fucking hard. He dialed in calm, and I was able to glomp onto to his and ride it for all it was worth.

A stray breeze picked up Vecchio's aftershave and that was it. One whiff and my dick was getting hard and had no place to go. I sucked down one last drag and was going to suggest we high-tail it home when he said, "Whenever you're ready, Kowalski. Let me know."

Fuck! He knew and was offering, showing he was at least as crazy as me. I was damaged, not sure I wasn't totally broken here, and we were both coming out of some sort of alcoholic clusterfuck and had he lost his fucking mind?

I got it together enough to say, "I'm pretty fucked up."

He took a couple of drags and then said, "Join the club."

"No, I mean I'd just fuck things—"

"Maybe, maybe not. Let's go home."

We left it at that, which means to say we didn't do nothing about it, but it was the fucking elephant in the room all frigging day long and into the night! Not like we said anything to each other, but we both started back at the gym to work it off. More tashit stuff. Vecchio belonged to this hoity-toity place where they have attendants to hand you your towels. I went back to my old gym where you were damn lucky to get towels. Nothing like sublimating those urges by beating up the bag.

Vecchio was a pusher. Man, he pushed about everything. The guy was a lot like Fraser in that he just never gave it a rest. The bathroom floor; the socket wrenches, the CDs scattered on the stereo cabinet. Even tried to give me a lesson on washing china. This? He left it to me. Didn't push, didn't bring it up again. Now and then, he'd shift his dick in his pants, and I could see he had a hard on. Sometimes I could smell the arousal on him, but he didn't say nothing.

Late one Saturday afternoon, I'd just climbed out of the shower after a punishing hour at the gym where I'd beaten that bag until my knuckles were bruised. Which made doing my hair a bitch. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, a towel twisted around my waist, and wiping the toothpaste from my mouth, I'm eyeing the hair gel and debating giving my hair a miss because my hands feel like they were run over by a garbage truck, when Vecchio knocked and then opened the door. "You almost done?"

The smell of him, the combo of his aftershave and him hit me in the gut like a punch. Sweaty, earthy. He had that second sheen of sweat on him. The first sheen you towel off. The second sheen is what you get driving home; he was just glowing from that and the exercise. He was wearing that stupid velour track suit that I bet cost an arm and a leg, but was just dumb. I teased him about it all the time: "How many velours gave their lives so that you can strut your stuff in that gym of yours? Huh, Vecchio?" But today I wasn't teasing because he was down to his wife-beater and pants, the matching jacket in his hand. His biceps were fucking pumped up; I could see the veins just bulging from the weights he'd done.

All that, all that, man, I was done. Just stick a fork in me.

I turned my head away and braced myself against the sink with both hands. No point in trying to hide the boner. My towel was sticking out because my dick was sticking out, and beads of sweat were forming on my hairline. He'd have to be fucking blind not to see that I was about six strokes away from losing it.

"You ready, Ray?"

It slays me when he calls me Ray, cause I know what it means. No masks, no bullshit, just him and me down to the bones of whatever.

I didn't move because this would be crazy, crazy. I thought it was crazy wanting to hump a Mountie, but this was the Olympics of crazy, wanting to hump Vecchio.

Again, he didn't push me, just waited, and when I don't say nothing, he moved to shut the door. I grabbed him by his bicep and pulled him in the room. His arm was warm and the muscles still pulsing a little from his workout, damp from his sweat. I couldn't help it; I moaned because it was so hot and I wanted it so bad.

"Finally, you asshole. Finally," he muttered and pulled me against him.

I gave it up. If this was crazy, it was crazy. I couldn't fight it no more. I didn't want to fight it no more.

Wrapping his left arm around my chest to hold me solid against him, he jacked me with his right hand, talking over my moans and grunts. It had been a really long time since anyone had had a hand on me, and when it's been that long, you're just a slave to it. It owns you. And Vecchio knew that. I knew he knew by what he was saying to me in that smooth chocolatey voice that I'd only heard him use with me.

"Just gonna take the edge off, okay? Jack you good and hard, baby, so you'll come. Let go, Ray. Want to hear how long it's been in your voice. How good it is. Been wanting to fuck that skinny ass of yours and I'm finally going to get it. Fuck, Ray, I can…" And now I felt Vecchio's hard-on poking me in the ass in rhythm to the long, fast strokes of his hand. Didn't feel like this was the first time he'd jacked off a guy. Nope. Felt like he knew exactly what he was doing. Played my dick like an expert to be honest, and if I wasn't so completely insane with wanting it, I would have called him on it. But later because… oh fuck, yeah, like that. "I can see you in the mirror and you're so fucking fine… Pretty. You… You… Gonna fuck you into the mattress, Ray. Gonna make it right for you. Just fuck all that shit out, all that hurt. I'll make you come again and that second time will be even better. So come on, baby…"

I tried to say, "Not a chick here," but all I could manage was semi-choking noises because the fucker had ramped it up. The strokes got even longer, man, was that possible? Was my dick that long? And tighter and faster, with both the hand thing and the dick poking me through the velour of his sweat pants and the chanting, "Ray, come on, baby, come on. Come on, come on. Comeoncomeoncomeon," I was gone. Went over.

I banged against him as it hit me, shouted out something, Christ knows what. Things went white, then red, then white again, and we're talking all kinds of orgasmic greatness here. My knees weren't working real well, but somehow he kept me standing, even managing to turn me around so I could link my arms around his neck to take some of the weight off. He stroked my back as I came down from it. Nibbled on my neck a little until my heart rate had calmed down to the point of only mild heart failure.

He didn't carry me into his bedroom, but damn near close. We sort of shuffled, he still mostly keeping me upright, because I was pretty much fucking useless. He laid me down on his bedspread with such care, like I was fragile, kissing the top of my head when it touched the pillow. Real close to passing out, I forced myself to stay awake and watched him undress. Like most bald men he had a ton of body hair, dark nipples peeking out from a bunch of dark curls, the body fur getting real heavy as it trailed down in a vee to his dick. Despite that one hell of a hand-job, my dick saw that body hair and gave a happy little jerk. That hair was a turn-on, which was strange, me being used to Fraser with that creamy skin/hairless thing he's got going on. Okay, definite evidence that I was pretty much a passenger on the queer bus because this wasn't Fraser-inspired lust. And that extra weight he'd gained in Vegas—Vecchio groused about it all the frigging time—it looked good on him. I seen before pictures of him before, natch, and he was rangy and kind of geeky looking. The weight helped balance out the schnozz, and combined with that physical grace he had, he moved like some fat jungle cat. A real dangerous jungle cat.

This afternoon he didn't look so dangerous. Just a tall, beefy, horny guy with a big nose and a nice fat boner. Real nice fat boner. Man, that dick was thick. Not that I was a frigging expert, but it was a whole lot thicker than mine and, yeah, thicker than Fraser's too. Fucker was going split me wide open. I started grinning. Yeah, this was going to be good.

After all that patter in the bathroom, I expected him to keep up the running commentary, but he didn't. Just slid into bed in one easy movement, like he didn't have a boner the size of Illinois, and rolled me on my side so that we were facing each other. He didn't kiss me, just petted my face, ruffled my hair, ran a gentle thumb over my bottom lip. Something big was going on here. He had this massive hard-on, looking like it was about to pop any minute, and I half expected him to throw me on the bed, think, oh hey, lube, nah, no time, and just dive into me. But no. We just lay there; he continued to dig me with his hands and his eyes, making these little jittering moves against my hip with his dick because that perv wanted some action, but Vecchio wasn't giving into him just yet. Yeah, something big. This wasn't about getting some off the half-queer guy you live with. Using each other because you both needed to get laid.

My legs might have been mush, but my hands were working fine. I cupped the back of his neck and brought him forward. Vecchio's got a nice mouth on him. That long lower lip. Yeah.

I might be a grade-A fuck up, but the one thing I do well is kiss. Okay, I'm also a kick-ass dancer, and I think the two are related, but blow me if I can figure out how. I just kinda go with it. When we still had a sense of humor about things, Stella used to say to me, "Why don't you just kiss the perps, Ray? Within five minutes they'd be confessing to anything."

Starting out real slow, I nibbled lightly on his bottom lip. Considering how worked up he was, he did pretty well. Only drove his dick into my hip with such force that I was going to need a hip replacement in about three years. Then with a wet mouth, I nipped his lips, gentle, like we had all the time in the world. Just exploring here. Seeing the lay of the land. Licked his bottom lip, then his top, letting him know that some tongue was on the way. Then I was in, tasting him, giving it to him, in charge.

And then I gave it up to him. Pulled away and croaked, "Do me," then turned over on my stomach. Because that's what this was all about.

Giving a guy a hand job is something you can sort of talk around. Like your hand was here, his dick there. Not a big deal. But putting your dick in another guy's ass? That's always get a permission slip time.

I spread my legs, braced myself on my elbows a bit, and shoved my ass up in the air.

"Fuck, Kowalski," he whispered and ran two sweaty hands over my ass cheeks, kneading them with strong fingers, opening me up.

He was good with the lube, generous, and didn't tease at all, just shoved enough fingers up and in and then lathered himself up. Nipping and laving my shoulders, I barely registered the push in, the pop as the muscle gave way.

Then I felt him. The stretch, the heat, the greatness of someone in your ass.

I groaned. It had been way too long. I turned my head to the side and Vecchio got it. Shoved in again and on the push forward nipped my mouth with his.

I'd already come my brains out, so I wasn't panting for it. I could appreciate every slow grind and slide of Vecchio's dick. He was one of those glacial fuckers, getting into the total zen of his dick in a hot, tight place. But it wasn't any hot, tight place. He murmured my name so I knew he knew who he was fucking, wanted to fuck. He played around with some angles. Laughed a bit when I panted out a "Fuck, yeah," when he started hitting the right spot. And then that slow fuck disappeared out the window. Fast, clipped nudges against my prostate had my dick throbbing in about one minute, ready to blow. He brought a hand up to me and that was it. Ten strokes and I was over. Holding me to him, a hairy arm wrapped around my chest, he slowed it down again and it was oh so deep it was like his dick was touching my toes. Easy and sweet. If he hadn't been sweating up a fucking storm and his thighs weren't shaking like crazy and making these tiny whimpering noises in the back of his throat, I'd have never known he was going nuts from this. Willing to do everything to fight it off because it was so good.

At that I dry heaved, cause I nothing left, and he came at that. One final deep thrust and a loud "Ah" and that was it.

We crashed on the bed. "Vecchio," I mumbled and was asleep in ten seconds.

I was so fucked out that I didn't even have morning wood.

He was up before me; I heard the shower going and lay in bed listening to him sing. He's a really bad singer; plus he stayed in Vegas for far too long because he was singing Celine Dion, and if last night hadn't be fucking fantastic, I would have gone in there and shoved a bar of soap down his throat.

Ten minutes later I heard, "Get your ass out of bed or we're going to be late for church." I grunted something back to let him know I was alive and then headed to the shower.

A cup of coffee was on the table waiting for me when I shuffled into the kitchen. Last week he'd gone out and bought me a gigantic mug, something that holds like seven quarts of liquid. When he handed it to me he said, "I should get the Presidential Medal of Honor or something because you are pretty fucking impossible in the morning without about six cups of coffee in you. The 2-7 owes me."

Which was really cool and why does he do this stuff for me?

I doctored it up with the M&M's and lots of milk. Took a few sips. Yeah, perfect. But I couldn't let it go. He was hiding behind the newspaper, which I was guessing meant no talking, and I got it, but too bad. I can be pushy too.

"You done that before." I wasn't asking a question. Despite that macho Italian shit he pulls, I could see Vecchio doing hand-jobs with other guys in high school, sort of an after-the-game-let's-jack-each-other-off-behind-the-gym-because-we're-hyped-plus-really-trashed-on-cheap-beer thing. But the fucking? That was first class, I've been there, done that sort of expertise. Course, maybe he was just into backdoor sex with hookers.


Okay, when you've got your hand on my dick you can't shut up, but the kitchen is a no-talking zone? I don't think so.

"With guys or just hookers?"

"Guys." He rattled the paper a little to let me know I was pissing him off, but tough shit.

"In Vegas?"

"Yeah, in Vegas." He threw the paper down on the table. "You want a fuck by fuck description, Kowalski?"

"Just curious, Vecchio. I'm…" I needed to let him know that I wanted it. Whatever it was. It wasn't being fuck buddies or fuck roommates. Last night had been a lot of things, but it wasn't getting an itch scratched by the guy who will take it up the ass. I reached over and took his hand.

"I'm good, Ray."

His body didn't move a muscle, but all the tension went out of the room.

I squeezed his hand. He squeezed back.

"We forgot about condoms, but my tests were clean last month."

I nodded. "Yeah, me too."

"We're running late. Get the pooch. You wanna catch a late breakfast after church? The place a couple of blocks down?"

"Yeah. Sounds good."

Two months into this new and improved session of AA, the sex hadn't let up. After Stella and Fraser, my confidence wasn't so great, but after a few, "Christ, you've got a hell of a boner. What's your problem? Come here, you stupid fucker," from Vecchio, I got the picture. There was none of this "not in the mood" shit. Or, "I have a case in the morning" shit. Or, "We need to chop wood" shit. No "later" crap. It was now and again and when he whispered "slut" in my ear, he usually had his dick up his ass when he said it, so slut yourself, Vecchio. Hadn't had this much sex since those first couple of years married to Stel. That sort of easy, hot sex where there are no boundaries. You reach for someone and there isn't that half second of wondering if it was gonna be blast off or fuck off. It was just going for it. Whenever. Fucking-a.

As much as it's fire all rockets all the time, Vecchio's pitching and Kowalski's catching. I don't mind, because Vecchio is pretty damn good with that dick of his. Ditto with the blow jobs. I so much as spread my legs and he's all over my dick, dragging that bottom lip of his up my shaft, slow and sure. Knows when the thighs start shaking to shove two slick fingers up my ass. And he don't squawk when I return the favor, but I know, like I now know that his dick curves to the left a little, and there's a real sensitive spot just below the crown, that he's never had anyone do him. Something tells me this is one of those blurry lines between Armando and Ray, and that no way was Armando gonna take it up the ass, and so Vecchio didn't, but I don't know if he wants it or not.

I leave it alone.

I ain't complaining. Figure it's his loss. At some point, he'd gonna look at me, completely fucked out with that shit-eating grin on my face—the one I flash him before I pass out. Fucker's not stupid. The light bulb's gonna go on. Like if he was a commuter, traffic's inching along, sitting in his car. He sees those billboards on the freeway for a new condo development. The one's that say, "YOU COULD BE HOME NOW, STUPID COMMUTER!" Except in our case it's, "YOU COULD BE JUST AS FUCKED OUT, STUPID VECCHIO!" Not that he don't look happy, cause he does. But getting fucked? Man, it rocks. Course, I like to fuck too. It's all good.

Mitch took over my bed immediately, and what is it with dogs that they know when to make their move? It's like they have human GPS or something? Anyway, we're sharing Vecchio's bed, which I have to admit is pretty nice, and aside from getting as much sex as I could possible want or need (whoa, greatness!), life went on. Busting perps, trying to stay alive despite stupid ass partner's best efforts, walking and playing with Mitch (who was getting more like Dief every day, and I was beginning to realize that the half-dog part of Dief was German Shepard, given Mitch's thing for donuts), throwing the yuppie couple my best eat-rocks grin on Saturday morning, and on Sundays watch Vecchio come out of church looking like vultures had been eating his soul.

This Sunday we'd taken the Goat for once, cause the Riv was guzzling oil, and even Vecchio had to concede that it was time to rebuild that engine. Before it decided to throw a rod. Which really pissed him off because he hates my driving. Which is only fair, cause I hate his. It's nothing but sniping.

"That was a red light, asshole." "One more mile over the speed limit and I'm writing you up." "You are a fucking menace. That, you blind motherfucker, was a pedestrian…"

Course, I give it right back to him. "Should I call your mother and let her know that we'll be arriving before Easter?" "The green light means go." And my personal favorite, "Fraser teach you how to drive, Vecchio?"

Except on Sundays mornings on the way to church? We don't ride each other's driving. We don't say a fucking word. It's get the pooch in the car, get your car keys, and no habla asshole for a couple of hours.

Mitch and I do okay for about an hour, I throw the ball until my arm aches, watch him menace other dogs, contemplate the ducks on the pond for dinner (which means no donuts for a year, so we are very cool on that score, but he tries to fake me out now and then with some well-timed growls), and then my guts start wrenching up. I hate it when Vecchio comes out of church. He looks bad going in, and every time I think, he couldn't possibly look worse, most of the time I'm proved wrong.

Weird thing? He don't even talk to no priest. He just sits in the confessional and "talks" to God in his head.

I asked him, "Why can't you, like, do that in your bedroom or the john or something? Why you got to sit in the booth?" I don't add: it's okay now in the spring, but by winter, Mitch and I are gonna be freezing our goddamned balls off so maybe we need another plan.

Apparently it don't work like that because when he talks to God, God reams him about six additional assholes, then Vecchio gets down on this knees for a while and tries to work it with the Virgin Mary to square it away with God.

One day he comes out and, Jesus Christ, if he don't look like he'd been worked over with a hose God style. No bruises, but they are there. I can't help it. I never know when to keep my yap shut and today weren't no different. I waited until we're halfway home and then I blurted out, "Why you go when you hear shit that does this to you?"

Five beats. Nothing. Six beats. We're up to fifteen beats when I figure he's gonna stonewall me, when he says, "Some days he won't talk to me. Today was one of those days."

I don't get any of this. None of it, but today, like every Sunday morning, I'm psyched up for Vecchio having been raked over the religious coals, when he comes out of church, sees me, and gives me the biggest fucking grin. Ear to ear. Teeth even.

What the fuck?

We get in the car, he pats Mitch's head, which he never does, and I think, yeah, he's finally gone fucking crazy. But this is me and I can't not say something, because usually he's got a look on his face like he wants to jump off a bridge and today he looks like he just scored that perfect bunch of broccoli away from the yuppie couple.

"What gives?"

"Gives?" he asked, and still looks pretty damn happy.

"Yeah, the smile. Usually you come out of there and… Shit, Vecchio, I got Suicide Prevention on speed dial on my cell. Today?"

He shrugged and then said, "We talked about you."

Yeah, so I go through a red light. Right through the sucker. Because people talking to God about me is never good. The nuns were, "Dear God, please have that Kowalski kid run over by a garbage truck this morning on the way to school." With my mother it was and probably still is, "Dear God, please do not let my son get killed today in the line of duty." With Stella it was, "Dear God, please have the washing machine eat up that Clash tee-shirt." So I don't like to hear that people are having conversations with God about me because if their prayers are answered, I'm getting killed by a garbage truck and wearing a polo shirt. Except in my mom's case. Cause she's stand-up. But I hate it that she worries so much.

"Me. You were talking to God about me."

"Yeah, you got a problem with that?"

I do, but I'm not going into the whole thing how nuns want me dead, so I go on to the next subject. Which is Vecchio ramming my ass on a near constant basis and the last time I heard, God wasn't too cool with that. Like the sin that will earn you six eternities in hell. You don't even get a rest in Purgatory. It's fire up the coals nice and hot, boys, queer guy's next on the conveyor belt to hell.

"Uh, nope, not me. But thought God might. You know the stuff we do. In bed."

Vecchio rolled his eyes.

"Like the fact I suck your dick?"

We'd pulled into our garage by then and I shoved the car in park.


I can always tell when Vecchio's about to go asshole on me and he was close, just primed, when he saw my face and pulled back. Just pulled it back.

"All that homophobic shit? Not him. He's cool with…" and he waved his hand between us. "He's not so happy with the other shit I did, but you and me? He gets it that you're my 'pretty'." Here, he grabbed my hand off the steering wheel and gave my knuckle a couple of kisses.

World imploded right then and there. Just sucked all of it in and did whatever implosion does. I'd never been anyone's "pretty." People had always been my pretty. Stella. Fraser. Always the one who people raised their snotty eyebrows at. What's that guy (or girl) doing with him? And it wasn't physical, cause I got a sort of rough charm; it was the whole fucking package. The smart wife, and, well, Fraser. I don't got enough words to describe him. I haven't completely given up on the idea that he might be an alien because sometimes he wasn't human. But getting off track here. What sucked was that I don't think they saw me as their private little pretty, you know? Like it was okay that the rest of the world thought they were slumming with me, but it was not cool that they did. Okay, I'm being majorly unfair to Fraser. He would have, if he'd thought in those terms. But I guess this comes down again to that number one shit again. If I'd been number one with Fraser, I'd have been the Canadian version of pretty and I just wasn't.

And Vecchio. Smiling because whatever he and I got makes him talk about me to God, and, fuck, makes him smile like I don't ever see him smile. Course, they could just be cracking jokes about me, but that's okay.


Guess my lungs hadn't imploded because I got it together enough to say, "Upstairs. Now. Bed."

My hands were shaking so much that I could barely undo the button on my jeans. Vecchio was in bed already, looking at me, trying to figure out why I'm having this emotional meltdown. Why I'm like porcelain here. Ready to just fucking break.

I crawled into bed and pulled him close to me. I don't want to see his face. Don't want to see the 'no' there if he decides he's not that queer, but I really need to do this and I hope he gets it. I run my hands down his back, stroke his ass. I don't got much of an ass, but Vecchio's ass is mighty fine. Not Fraser fine, but Christ, Fraser's got an ass on him that most women would kill for. So it's not fair to make any comparisons and I don't. Because I like Vecchio's ass under my hands. It's good.

"Ray," I said, as I stroked and squeezed. My voice was low and sounded like I'd been swallowing nails or something, all raspy and tight. My needy voice and did he know it was my needy voice? "You gotta let me… I need to…" I swiped my thumb over his cleft. He jumped a little at that, pulling back so he could see my face, studying me, shit, with that cool appraisal thing he does. "I…" And I can't say it, but what I want to say is, "I want to make love to you and that means doing your ass." But, hey, we're guys, and I don't think guys say that sort of shit to each other. So I don't. But that's what I want. I don't want sex, not taking the edge off my boner. I needed as in and inside Vecchio as I could possibly get. This had nothing to do with our dicks and everything to do with that smile.

I bring up one free hand and cup his chin.

"I've never done that," he said, pretty matter-of-fact. Just putting it out there. Not a "no" just a "heads-up."

I nodded because I couldn't say anything that wasn't gonna make me sound like a total dork. I continued squeezing his ass with one hand, the other hand still cupping his chin, running my thumb over his cheek.

"You going to do me sometime this century, Kowalski?"

I never thought anything was missing before, because fucked out is fucked out. But this? The missing half of the circle I never knew was missing.

Fucking Fraser was like listening to Mozart. There were all these measured steps and it was beautiful and precise and when you slid your dick into him, it was lots of cymbals and the whole orchestra went wild. But in a completely logical way. The passion inched its way along until you were fucking screaming from it.

Fucking Vecchio? John Coltrane. All smooth notes and never knowing where he's gonna take you, you just know it's gonna be cool. I started out kissing him real slow, cause I learned a thing or two being Saleiri to Fraser's Mozart. And yeah, I know who Salieri is cause he made me watch that Mozart movie in retaliation for making him watch Animal House.

Nipped at his lips until he was huffing at me to get on with it; then slid in a little tongue, nothing major, just a taste. Then it was about ramping it way up until our tongues were pulsing against each other in time with our dicks nudging against our hip. Then brought him to the edge with my mouth. Long licks, deep throating that dick of his until I swear the tip of it touched my kidneys. But this time I didn't let him go over. Left him hanging and, boy, did he let me know how fucked up that was. Then I stuck my tongue up his ass, and he shut up. He says he doesn't like it, but that's bullshit, cause he moans and groans and shoves his ass back in my face every time. And when we'd finished slicking him up with three fingers and I lathered my own dick, I slid in real easy and started teasing his prostate with my dick. Took me a couple of angles, a couple of slides, and then I was home. He went nuts. I ignored him, taking it slow because this wasn't even about getting off. It was about connecting with him, letting him know that, yeah, I'm here and we're buddies and it's not a one-way street and that I'm waiting for him at the church because I care about him even if he is an irritating fucker.

Being Vecchio, it wasn't your normal full-blown nuts, but the patter started up the second I put my hand on his dick and began pumping in time my thrusts. I knew that for Vecchio this was nuts. His body was grooving with the moves, like he'd been fucked every day of his life, but his mouth? Just stream of consciousness swearing: "Fuck, yeah, you got…That's… Man, I've… Kowalski, you… There, you fucker, there… Christ on a… Jeeeesssuuuusss. Fuckfuckfuck. Ray!"

I held on until he came and then let go. It was pretty damn good as orgasms go, but it only sort of registered because it wasn't important. I used to do that with Stella back in the beginning when we made love; it wasn't about me at all.

Which was sort of implosion, the sequel, cause there was something major going on here with Vecchio. Between the two of us. Beyond the AA gig. Vecchio got the Chicago thing, my Chicago, not Stella's lakefront Chicago; the car thing, how driving a cool car makes up for a lot of the bad shit that happens; he got the cop thing, the high from nailing some bottomfuckingfeeder and then the rage when the scumbag gets sprung on a technicality; he got the whole baseball thing and how it's a game created by God; the hockey thing not so much, but I could tell it was growing on him. And he got me. That I was an asshole some of the time, but basically an okay guy. His pretty. Shit. But good shit, you know?

Maybe third time lucky?


After ten minutes of silence, Vecchio wasn't leaping out of bed to wash off the gay, so I figured he was good with what just went down and was probably half asleep. I'd wake him up in time for a quick shower before we had to go to his ma's. I wiped myself down with a corner of the sheet and snuggled back against him for a short nap.

"Wake me up in an hour," I whispered to Mitch half asleep on the floor on my side of the bed. He was like Dief's twin, except he could hear and read lips. He yawned and nodded.

I threaded Vecchio's hand through mine and was about to nod off when I heard him whisper: "When I can move again, I'm going to beat the living shit out of you for hogging all the ass sex to yourself. Not buddies, Kowalski."

"Go to sleep, Vecchio. It is not my fault you're stupid. Ever wonder why I got that shit-eating grin on my face after you pound my ass?"

"Assho…" he mumbled and didn't even finish his sentence before nodding off.

I kissed the back of his head before nodding off myself.

I knew something was majorly wrong when Welsh came up to my desk, holding car keys in one hand, his other hand pressing his gut, like his ulcer was bothering him. "Elaine, take care of Kowalski's dog for him," he barked in the direction of Elaine's desk.

"Got your glasses?" was all he said to me. I fumbled in my jacket pocket. At my nod, he hiked a thumb in the direction of the door.

For a big guy, Welsh could move. I had to trot to keep up with him. Welsh slammed the portable flashers on the top of his car (no departmental issue, which was also a bad sign), hit the siren, and tore out of the garage. I clutched the edge of my seat because I'd never driven with Welsh when he was so motivated. Over curbs, up one-way streets, easily going seventy-five on Chicago city streets; one hand on the wheel, the other on the horn, even though the siren was screaming. THIS WAS BAD. WHATEVER IT WAS. BAD.

I couldn't talk above the horn and the siren, so I just sat there next to him, trying not to throw-up in his car. In about ten minutes, Welsh cut the siren and cooled the flashers. He rounded a couple of corners and then parked. Shit. A hostage situation. Three ambulances, news vans, and four fire trucks. The SWAT team was there with their fucking kitted-out vans. They always got the lion's share of the funding. SWAT was sexy, regular police work not. I'd yet to meet a SWAT guy that wasn't a total jerk-off. Those fuckers got cool jackets and late model vans and guns that would make a Columbian drug lord shoot his load. Come to think of it, most of their guns were confiscated from drug busts.

Welsh turned to me. "You're going to keep it together, Ray. You hear me? I need you to keep it together."

It was an order not a request.

I nodded, because what the fuck was I supposed to do?

He pointed at a ratty apartment building. We were parked in the sort of neighborhood where on hot days you can smell the meth cooking, the metallic odor of chemicals wafting out open bathroom windows.

"Vecchio and O'Malley are in there with some methed-out speed freak." I made to exit the car, but Welsh knew me and grabbed my wrist in a vise so tight that if I moved one inch my wrist would snap in two. "We're set-up right across the street. We got a real good view into the asshole's place. Vecchio's tied up—"

"No way!" I shouted, cause Vecchio's too good a cop—

"Cool. I need you to be cool, Ray. O'Malley tied him up after the crazy put a bullet in his leg. We got no more time here. O'Malley's bleeding out up there and the perp's five hours behind his last fix. We've been stringing him along, saying we're getting him some meth and to hold on."

"Shrink?" I managed to get out.

"Says he's suicide material, but not before he takes out Vecchio and O'Malley."

Welsh let go of my wrist.

"Let's go. Got your glasses?" he demanded again.

I patted my pocket, just to make sure, and then it dawned on me. "Lieu, what the—"

"Because your scores at the range last month were better than at least half those puffed up gun jockeys they got up there. They'd probably fuck it up and I know you're not going to fuck it up." He paused. "And it's Vecchio. Your Vecchio."

Christ. Welsh knew.

He hiked his head in the direction of apartment building where the SWAT team had set up shop. "You are going to smoke that asshole for me. I'll square it with Harris. He owes me one and that's two of my guys in there. Let's move, Kowalski."

Welsh's face looked like he was about one-hundred-and-eighty-years old, but you'd never know by the way he got out of that car.

Nobody even flicked an eyelid in our direction when Welsh and I entered the apartment where they'd set up their command. We kept close to the walls in case that tweaked out asshole got the bright idea to start picking us off. Man, I hated SWAT team guys. They always acted like the rest of us were kindergartners playing police officers. Plus, what is with the dark glasses thing? Welsh immediately pulled Harris, the head of SWAT, out of the room. I got close to a speaker phone, where the shrink was trying to calm down the speed freak, who was tweaking so badly that I could practically smell the sweat from here.

"Get me the fucking stuff or the cops die right now. Right fucking now!" the guy shouted. "I got a gun to the one with the big nose right here."

I could hear O'Malley sobbing quietly in the background. Nothing from Vecchio. I put my glasses on because we had no time. I could hear it in his voice. No more time. The guy was ready to blow. Everyone in the room knew it, too. Ten people's hands went to their guns.

"I promise you, we're getting it together. Did you see those two men enter the building? They have what you need." Shrink didn't think there was any more time either. I couldn't hear it in her voice, but she was gripping the side of the table. Bad sign.

"Have them get their fucking asses over here now! I'm counting to twenty then I pop the cop. Hear me? I pop the cop!"

Welsh came in the room and gave me a nod. I yanked on the arm of one of the SWAT guys plastered against the wall near the open window and hissed in a low whisper, "Give me your fucking gun and then move, asshole." He jerked his chin up, like he was going to challenge me, but then must have seen Harris' face because he handed me his gun with a sight and then backed away.

"Hey, Vecchio. It's Kowalski. You there? I got the stuff," I said loud enough for the speaker phone to pick up. I raised the gun to see out of the sight. I couldn't see O'Malley, but the guy had Vecchio in a head lock, a Glock up against his temple. The guy was tweaked out to the max. Your typical speed freak by the look of him; weighed about ninety pounds, eyes bugged out, hadn't had a haircut in six years. Making frantic jerks with his shoulders. Yeah, he needed it. Sweat was pouring off of his face. Vecchio looked bored.

"Bring it over here, man! Now!" shouted the speed freak.

"Got it, dude. Stay cool. Had to sign some forms. You know how it is. Got you some primo shit here. Worth the wait. Gonna come over in about one minute. Can you hold on?"

"Need it, man. Need it," he whimpered.

Yeah, you're gonna need more than a vein full of juice, pal, when I'm finished with you. Like a fucking coroner.


My world narrowed down to nothing but that dick's forehead.

"Took your sweet time getting here, Kowalski. Driving that piece of shit Goat of yours?"

Man, he was cool. Wouldn't know from the tone in his voice that he had a gun muzzle to his temple.

"Ran into some traffic. See you in a minute. Just signed off on the form."

Word, I need a word here, Vecchio. Give me a fucking sign.

"Fucking paperwork. What the fuck? Do we work for the Canadian consulate or what?"

Good, Vecchio, but we both know that's not it. Where you going with this?

The speedfreak was about to lose it. He tightened his lock even more around Vecchio's neck. I tightened my trigger finger.

"Asshole! Get over here—"

Vecchio said over him. "Remember when Fraser—"

At that Vecchio twisted his body and I shot. Smoked the motherfucker right between the eyes.

"My dry cleaner is going to kill me," muttered Vecchio and stuffed his suit into a garbage bag.

I'm pacing. Back and forth the width of our bedroom while Vecchio pouted over brains on his suit jacket.

"Would you stop that? It's driving me fucking crazy," he snapped.

"You know what drives me crazy? Seeing you nearly get iced by that fucker. That drives me crazy. And if I don't move, I'm gonna start breaking the fucking furniture. You nearly bought it back there. Bought it!" I shouted.

Vecchio turned away from me and hauled his tee shirt over his head.

"But I didn't. Man, that guy had the worst B.O. They'll never get that smell out of my—"

"RAY!" I screamed.

"Hey, hey, I'm okay," he said quietly and made the "come here" sign with his hand.

I turned my head aside and just stood there, not knowing if I could even touch him I was so fucking close to just shattering.

He came over to me, dragged me into a hug.

How fucked up is this? Vecchio's just had some crazy-assed meth addict pointing a gun at his head for two hours and I'm the one bawling my eyes out. I can smell him, that Armani aftershave, and then the real nasty stench of that punk's sweat. It was so close. So. Close.

When I'd stopped boo-hooing, he didn't let go of me. Kept holding me, one hand in my hair, the other running down my back.

"You almost bought it," I repeated.

"Nah, I was okay."

I rolled my eyes. "The detective watching that asshole push a muzzle against your temple says different."

"I was good."

The calm way he said it brought me up short and I pulled away a little.

"Bullshit. I was—"

He sighed. "Promise me you won't freak out."


He thumbed my earlobe and kept looking at me.

"Wasn't my time. I knew it wasn't my time."

At my raised eyebrows, like, what the fuck are you talking about? he said, "Still got some rosaries to say. The man said it wasn't my time."

I pulled away and started pacing again. This was so fucking unfair.

I pointed at him. "You are not pulling voodoo shit on me. You are not. I lived with Fraser's voodoo for too many years, what with the Dief thing and his nutball father and the Canadian wilderness in the closet—"

"Yeah, that was really weird," he admitted.

"Shut the fuck up," I ordered. "I did all that Twilight Zone crap with him and I am not doing it with you. And if you think I am going to believe that you had some fucking heart-to-heart with God while that tweaking son-of-a-bitch—"

Then I saw the look on his face and it was exactly that. He had one of his little conversations with God and instead of God saying to him, you are so fucking toast, no air-conditioning in hell, he said, "Ray, not your time."

Thank Christ the bed was there because I just collapsed on the edge. He came over and sat next to me, picked up my hand, and kissed it.

"Just not my time," he repeated. "Knew one of the SWAT guys would nail him, and hoped it was soon because O'Malley was bleeding out, but I wasn't punching that final time clock. Not yet."

I tried to get this, I really did. But it was all tied up with faith and Vecchio's guilt and Vegas and God and throw in the Virgin Mary why don't you, and I came up with nothing but craziness. And then I did what I used to do with Fraser and all his enormous freak-city weirdness. I just gave into it. Because I didn't have a choice. Because Vecchio was kissing my hands and wasn't dead and smelled like the dead guy's B.O., and yeah. I laid my head on his shoulder.

"The lieu knows about us."

"Everyone knows about us, Kowalski."

"Just because we're living together don't mean that," I protested. "We weren't fucking before and—"

"Well, we're fucking now. People want to talk to us about the fact we do each other, bring it on. I got no problem with them and they better not have a problem with me or you. The one positive thing I learned in Vegas is that you either own a situation or it owns you. Okay?"

Vecchio owned nearly every situation he walked into, sure, but this wasn't mobster time with a bunch of stupid made guys who wouldn't know their ass from their elbow. This was being a queer cop in Chicago and not getting back-up when you needed it.

"It's not that simple, and you know it," I grumbled.

I didn't buy Fraser's voodoo and I couldn't understand Vecchio's voodoo. But there's something called Kowalski voodoo that had nothing to do with weirdness and everything to do with staying alive. I pulled gently back on my hand, the one he was kissing, and removed my bracelet and put it on his wrist.

"That's to remind you not to do stupid shit. Like getting yourself tied up by meth addicts and nearly getting your brains splattered against some wall. You look at that bracelet every goddamned day and say to yourself, 'Today, I will not be a stupid asshole.'"

Vecchio stared at it. Closed his eyes tight. Then brought his wrist with the bracelet up to his mouth and kissed it. Then he opened his eyes, smiled at me, and reached around the back of his neck to unclasp the small gold cross he wore.

He put it on me.

"My ma gave that to me at my eighth-grade confirmation. Never had it off of me. Even wore it in Vegas."

The cross was warm against my skin. He leaned forward to whisper in my ear.

"Let's take a shower together. Wash off that motherfucker's B.O. Then I want you to fuck me into the mattress. Then we need to go over to Ma's because I want her to hear what went down from me and not the news. Okay?"

I nodded and stood up to get undressed. One-handed. Because the other hand was fingering the cross.

So we're both on desk duty until I.A. cleared us, mandated to see a shrink three times a week, and trying to keep our partners from going ape-shit. Cavanaugh went real quiet after O'Malley got shot, like it finally sunk in. This wasn't television. People got killed occasionally and messed up. O'Malley was on stress leave and, from the sounds of it, was fighting a nasty case of PTSD. Yeah, I got that having nearly bled out twice in my life.

Two weeks after the shooting, the 2-7 was gathered in the bullpen. The police chief wanted to give me another commendation for my file, shake Vecchio's hand (cause it looked real bad to lose a cop on your watch), and give the same speech he always did about "The fight for good, protecting the weak, blahblahblah."

'Cept he was late, like always, and we're standing around our desks waiting. The lieu was backed-up against a wall chit-chatting with Frannie's replacement, Vecchio was shooting the shit with Huey, I was leaning against my desk, waiting, Vecchio's cross in my mouth, sucking on it. Same thing I used to do with the bracelet when I needed a cigarette and couldn't have one. The room was pretty quiet, all of us wondering when in the hell the chief was going to show his tardy ass, when Dewey piped up, "Hey, look everyone, Kowalski and Vecchio are going steady," and he pointed at the cross in my mouth.

All sound stopped except for the hum of the computers.

I don't look at Vecchio, just don't look at him, and for once take a second to think. Own. Situation. I spit the cross out.

I put a big smile on my face, like I could care less what this cheesy, two-bit jerk thinks and joked, "Is that what they're calling it these days?"

The room laughed; I got a small smile of approval from the lieu. Yay!

And it would have ended there except that Dewey is such an asshole.

"Like sucking cock? Hope I get you for the Christmas exchange because I'm getting you a pair of kneepads."

The words were barely out of his mouth before Vecchio had him slammed up against a wall and began chocking Dewey to death with one hand. If ever I had a stupid desire to see the Bookman in action, I didn't anymore, because I was seeing it now. Dewey was turning blue.

"Vecchio!" Welsh screamed.

"One reason, Lieutenant," snarled Vecchio. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't—"

Own. Situation.

"Because, moron, we got primo tickets to see the Cubs at that double-header on Saturday night and if you kill Dewey, I'm gonna have to take Frannie."

At that he dropped Dewey on the ground. No one went to help him up.

Vecchio dropped his head for a second so I couldn't see his face, then straightened up and swiped his hands together twice, like he was wiping off some dirt. He looked at me. Vecchio was back, the Bookman back in his cage.

"Thanks for reminding me about that, Kowalski. Got some money on that game."

Like it was timed, the police of chief arrived with his entourage.

So it's yadayadayadayada, great, Chicago's finest, glad you killed the motherfucker. Stuff like that for over an hour. I get a nice little piece of paper, Vecchio gets his handshake, Welsh gets to lord it over Harris for the next twenty years, business as usual. Except.

No sooner was the police chief's ass out the door than I hauled Cavanaugh into Interrogation Room One. I hated Dewey.

"Just so you know. I'm not gonna squawk when you ask for the transfer. I'm cool with it."

Cavanaugh stared at me like I was nuts.

"Kowalski? Why would I want a transfer? "

Shit! I couldn't figure out if he was making it hard for me or just being plain stupid. Betted on the stupid.

"Me and Vecchio. You don't want to be in a situation where we need back-up and no back-up's gonna come. You ain't queer, but people aren't too choosy about those gay cooties. Everyone now knows about me and Vecchio, so I don't want you to get hurt. Okay?"

Cavanaugh laughed.

"You've got to be kidding me, right?" he snorted. "Everyone's known for months about you and Vecchio. First of all, no one's ass is safer than mine. You two are the lieu's pets. Anything happens to either of you and Welsh will personally nail to the Sear's Tower the balls of any idiot stupid enough to ignore your or Vecchio's back-up call. Second, you're fucking crazy, but Vecchio's a goddamn psycho. Everyone's scared to death of him. Except Dewey, who's an idiot. Something happens to you, body parts will be strewn all over Chicago."

So maybe I underestimated this guy, but I had to make sure.

"I'm giving you an out, Cavanaugh."

"Yeah, thanks but no thanks. O'Malley and I go back to grade school. So thanks for that. Plus, got a brother…" and his voice trailed off.


He held out his hand for me to shake.

"We cool?"

I nodded and shook his hand. "Hoping I.A. clears me next week so I can get away from my fucking desk. By the way, your brother cruise the bars on North Halsted?"

He nodded.

"Tell him to knock it off for the next month. Vice is running a sting. Some asshole is drugging people's drinks with roofies and then rolling them for their wallets when they pass out."

Vecchio didn't even bother to knock but just barged right in.

"I been to your house and know your family, so your poor ass manners ain't your mother's fault."

He pointed at his watch. "Shrink in thirty minutes, asshole. Come on."

"Would you keep your fucking shirt on? Cavanaugh and I were talking—"

"Talk later. You'd be late to your own funeral, Stanley."

"Take that Stanley shit and shove it up your ass. I'm driving, so we'll get there. If you were driving, we'd have had to have left before last Christmas and still we'd be late."

"At least I wouldn't kill ten pedestrians on the way."

"No, it would just be me dead. Of old age."

"Living at your place must be a riot. Comedy Central," laughed Cavanaugh.

"More like Asshole Central. I'll see you tomorrow," I grumbled.

Once we were in the car, I laid into him.

"That was taking control of the situation? Nearly killing Dewey?"

"Yeah, it was. Believe me, if I wanted to kill him, he'd be dead." That was probably true and kind of scared me. "Knew he'd pull something like that because he's a homophobic scumbag. I've been waiting for that opportunity for a while. Kind of sweet that he did it in front of everyone, so now I don't have to do it again. Think he's ever going to say another word about us ever again?"

Uh, no, cause if he did they'd have to take his badge away from him and then kill him because he'd prove without a doubt that he was too stupid to live.

I blurted out, "Cavanaugh says everyone knew about us anyway."

"Christ, give me patience. Didn't I tell you it wasn't no big bad secret? Cavanaugh have a problem?"

"Nope. I offered not to make a big deal if he wanted a transfer. Word is that we're both nuts, especially you, so no one wants to mess with us. And that was before you went psycho and nearly killed Dewey in front of the lieu. Cavanaugh's cool. Plus, he and O'Malley go back a ways and he's pretty happy I saved his life. And his brother's an ass-bandit. So, uh, no problem."

"Good," Vecchio said absentmindedly.

"See? Took us five minutes to get here. Tops. Now we got nothing to do for ten minutes. Come on, we got time for a quick smoke."

We sat on the steps of the office building, smoking one down, me getting worried because the mood had changed and I didn't know why. When I had passed Vecchio a lit cigarette, he held on to my hand a little too long.

"You getting along with your shrink?"

He shrugged.

"Hate mine. The guy should have a giant 'PC' tattooed on his forehead. The guy's asked me twelve times whether I have any 'remorse' about smoking that perp. Last session I can the bullshit and say, 'No, I'm fucking ecstatic that I killed him.' He says, 'Are you being ironic, Detective?' I say, 'I can't even spell ironic, and no I'm not.' But he doesn't want to hear that. He asks, 'Are you sure?' Then I say, 'Fuck, yeah,' which pisses him off even more. Then I say, 'Well, Detectives Vecchio and O'Malley are pretty happy I blew the guy away so I'm in good company.' At that he threw his arms up and stalked out of the room."

"Yeah, there are the right kills," Vecchio agreed.

What? Are there "wrong" kills?

"Today I'm gonna point to the picture of his wife on the desk and ask him how he'd feel if his wife had been the hostage and I'd shot the jumped up creep's brains out. I think the guy wants me to have some sort of nervous breakdown. Like snuffing out a turd like that should keep me up nights."

"We could invite him over for dinner. You have a nervous breakdown most nights."

"Har de har har. So, you having problems with your shrink?"

He don't answer the question for a while, then takes one last drag on his cigarette before crushing it with his foot. "We talk about Vegas."


It's Sunday.

A day that I used to hate as a kid because of church. Then I became an adult and it meant sleeping in so I began to like it. Now I'm with Vecchio and it means he goes to church and I'm there to pick up whatever pieces are left so I hate it again. To everything, fuck, fuck, fuck, there is a season, fuck, fuck, fuck…

Mitch seems to get that Sundays are different. He pulls back on the attitude and butts his snout into my hand a lot.

I hugged Vecchio outside church and watched his tailored-ass go inside.

Today was the day. Today I called Fraser and put this to bed. He'd been my friend before we'd touched each other's dicks and knowing him, he's still my friend no matter how shitty I've been to him this last year.

I threw the ball and watched Mitch scamper over the grass. It was warm already and it wasn't even noon. Summer was coming on. I dialed.

"Yo, Fraser…"

The entire phone call was frigging awkward. Catching up on people instead of each other. Fraser asked me six times how 'Francesca' was doing. When Vecchio came out of church Fraser was saying something real 'Fraser-ish', how the 'fates had smote him a cruel blow' by assigning Turnbull to his regiment. No one in the entire world talks like Fraser. I'm laughing because, man, that sucks. And it's not right between us yet but I know it will be. Maybe not soon, but eventually.

"You'll live. Gotta go. Vecchio's waiting for me. Take care."

I hung up before he could say anything. Not that I think he would, but Fraser knows me and I hoped like hell he got half of what I couldn't say.

Vecchio's got a look on his face. Not that 'God really hates me look' but something different. Like someone he knows just died.

I called Mitch, we all got in the car, and I drove three blocks before I pulled over, parked, and demanded, "What's up?"

He explodes. Explodes! Starts shouting and going Italian on me with the hands everywhere.

"You don't get it, do you? You get on the phone… I know who you were talking to, Kowalski. I know. I could see it in your face. I thought that was… That you and I…" He was shaking he was so mad. "You were on the phone to Fraser, weren't you?"

"Yeah. So?"

"Fuck! You are number one with me, Kowalski. You get that? You and I…"

Vecchio. Losing it. Losing it big time. The biggest of the biggest. I blasted the horn long and hard because this was craziness. Absolute craziness.

"Dial it down, for Christ's sake. You've been on my ass for months to talk to him. Months. We're good, right? I'm in a place where I can talk to him. He's still my goddamned friend. He will be for our entire frigging lives. You're fucking me and that doesn't make him not your friend does it?"

He gave me a terse shake of the head.

"I swear, Ray, on the grave of Sister Bertrille—"

"You're a fucking head case, you know that? First, that's not a real nun. She's a television nun. Second, that show isn't even on anymore—"

"Big deal. Syndication is like death. Fine. Okay. Yeah, you're number one with me too. Except you got all those little extra numbers in the corner. Up top. Like expo, expa… Lots of little numbers."

He sat there, clenching his fists, not giving me a fucking break.


He didn't say nothing, but I watched his fists slowly unwind until his fingers were splayed against his thighs. I picked up his hand with the bracelet, brought it up to my mouth, and kissed his wrist.

"I didn't give him my bracelet," I repeated.

"No, you didn't," he said finally.

We sat there for a while holding hands, not saying anything, letting things cool off.

Finally he said, "You got any money?"


"Yeah, a few T-bills. From the divorce. Stel was making the big bucks then and she isn't stingy."

"No, she's not," Vecchio agreed. "Ray?"


"I got some hazard pay for the Vegas gig. You think when our lease is up we could buy a house. Together? The flowerpots aren't doing it for me anymore. Some place with a yard so I can plant some vegetables. A place for Mitch. An extra bedroom for Frannie's kids when they stay."

And as insane as the idea was, I could see it. Vecchio getting fatter as the years roll on by. Me getting skinnier. Vecchio becoming the crazy old Italian man in the neighborhood. You know, the one who chases the kids trying to steal the prize-winning tomatoes out of his garden. Except in Vecchio's case he wouldn't be scaring them by raising a hoe; he'd probably pull out his Glock and shoot a few rounds over their heads. The two of us getting that Riv into shape. That will take years. A house. The two of us. I knew just the neighborhood.

I gave his hand a squeeze. "That works. We're good. Yeah?"

I hope he knew I meant like for the long haul; not just this fight in the car.

He nodded and then because this was Vecchio I knew he was gonna say it.

"Don't," I warned.

"What?" he said all innocent like.

"Call me Stanley and you are dead meat."

"Oh, I'm shaking like a fucking leaf."

"I'm warning you, Vecchio."

He snorted. "I consider myself warned."

I waited three beats.


I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out. "It's gonna be real sad."

Mitch chuckled.

Vecchio glared at Mitch and then turned back to me.

"At dinner."


"When I lean over and confidentially, in a really loud voice, tell your ma how concerned I am about your smoking."

"Do not do that to me, Kowalski."

"And how I've been asking you to see a doctor about that cough—"

"You say one fucking word and you're a dead man."

I shrugged. "You dealt the play," I reminded him.

"Well, I'm just going to mention to Ma that I think you're losing weight."

"Christ, don't do that," I begged. "She'll be shoving food in my face…"

He shrugged. "You dealt the play."

The next forty years should be hell of fun.